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Sat, Jun 30, 2012

Firefighters Make Progress On Academy Blaze

Only About 10 Acres Of USAF Academy Land Affected

The Waldo Canyon fire that has grown to 18,500 acres and burned hundreds of homes here has been contained on the southwestern corner of the U.S. Air Force Academy on June 28. The fire had burned about 10 acres of land on the Academy in the early morning of June 27, but firefighters on scene have continued to successfully hold a fire line they established earlier in the day. Because of their efforts, no structures, including homes, at the Academy have been damaged by the fire.

"The weather conditions were such that we were able to hold all of the fire lines that we created yesterday, and we improved additional fire roads in case conditions worsen," said Ernst Piercy, the Air Force Academy fire chief. "There is active fire on Lodgett Peak, just due west of the Air Force Academy, but there is no active fire on the Air Force Academy."
Piercy said favorable weather is expected throughout the day, with higher humidity and lower winds that will help their firefighting effort. To ensure the fire didn't progress like it did the night before, firefighters spent the night holding fire lines. "We actually had firefighters strategically placed throughout the valley, making sure nothing was jumping the fire line," the fire chief said. "At the same time, we were escorting the dozer crews as they were widening the fire lines. On top of all that, we were monitoring and vectoring air drops on Lodgett Peak."
Because of the success the firefighters have had at keeping the fire at bay, they were able to spend time throughout the day further improving existing fire lines. Eight additional bulldozers from Fort Carson, Colo., arrived with members from the Army's 4th Infantry Division using them and front-end loaders to clear brush and foliage that could potentially fuel the fire. "The rest of the firefighters are integrated into structural protection groups, so if the fire jumps (a fire line) because of wind, they're out there to put out hotspots and embers," Piercy said.

The fire chief credits the teamwork, not just between Air Force and Army members, but from their civilian counterparts as well. "There's no way we could do it without our partners, and we've been very successful as a result of this teamwork," he said.

Due to the fire, Academy officials evacuated the base, including base housing residents, leaving only mission-essential personnel operating on the installation. About 75 people from the Academy have evacuated to Fort Carson's special event center and youth services center where they're being provided shelter. John Van Winkle, from the Air Force Academy's Public Affairs Office, said there's no timetable for the residents to return to their homes and they'll be allowed to back when it's safe.

(Images provided by the U.S. Air Force)



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