COLORADO SPRINGS — The call about smoke in the Waldo Canyon area came in on a Friday – June 22, 2012. No one could have predicted at the time what was in store for many in the region, who were just preparing for the weekend.
“They just couldn’t find it,” said then Battalion Chief of the Colorado Springs Fire Department, Randy Royal. “It was tied to a single tree up in the canyon there.”
It was the next day – Saturday, June 23, that the fire became more apparent and it spread quickly. That day, the Colorado Springs Fire Department requested air support. By the afternoon, it had already grown to 600 acres and was spreading toward Chipita Park, Green Mountain Falls, and Cascade. Manitou Springs was at risk.
“It just looked horrible. You know, it was… I knew that it was a really bad situation,” said Royal.
By June 24, 11,000 people had evacuated their homes. The next day, the fire spread into Queens Canyon, in terrain that made it difficult for fire fighters to manage. On June 26, Colorado Springs recorded a record high temperature – 101 degrees. Winds of about 65 miles per hour pushed the fire down the slope.
“It doesn’t matter how good your fire department is. Anywhere. That’s Mother Nature… taking control.”Chief Randy Royal
The fire crept into Mountain Shadows, Oak Valley Ranch, and Peregrine. Burning embers created spot fires, and the Waldo Canyon Fire began spreading from one home to the next. The Flying W Ranch went up in flames.
By June 27, the number of people evacuated hit 30,000. Firefighters made a stand, in exhausting and demanding conditions. It wouldn’t be until July 1 that fire crews were able to get the fire 55% contained. Independence Day came and went, with the blaze reaching 95% containment on July 5.
Finally, on July 10, nearly 18 days after the first call, the Waldo Canyon Fire was officially declared 100% contained, thanks in large part to the tireless efforts of fire crews who battled the most destructive fire in Colorado history at the time.