As I sit here writing, it all feels like a bad dream; there are still some levels of shock and disbelief as I watch the disaster unfold on my community. The videos of the fire and smoke look like a vision of Hell... Hell in my city.
A couple of hours ago, Steve Bach, the mayor of Colorado Springs, verified what many of us have feared: Hundreds of homes have been lost in the Mountain Shadows housing area. This may very well make the Waldo Canyon fire the most devestating fire in Colorado history.
The entire atmosphere in Colorado Springs has been very surreal, and the firestorm that roared down the mountains and engulfed Mountain Shadows is unprecedented in our history. The fire moved more than three miles in about five minutes and literally incinerated homes almost on contact, as flames leaping nearly unimpeded from home to home, leaving nothing but ashes, and the occasional stone chimney, rising up like a tombstone above a battleground. The smoke yesterday lay like a shroud over the entire city.
To provide some perspective, when the disaster team was giving an update at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, it was interruped by the news that mandatory evacuation was now being mandated for the Mountain Shadows area... as they turned around towards the mountain, they were greeted with a huge wall of fire cresting the hills behind them and flowing down almost like a lava stream.
Firefighters engaged the fire all through the night, and while many homes were lost, many more were saved by their constant demonstration of heroism, organization and fortitude. Most had been working very long shifts. In one anecdote, a firefighter lay down on the pavement to grab a quick nap rather than leave the fire line. They constantly put their lives on the line for the people of our community. For this, no appropriate thanks are possible.
Overnight, more than 26,000 people were evacuated, without injury or incident. This, in and of itself is an amazing statistic because this is almost 5 percent of the population. That this could be accomplished so quickly and smoothly, in just a few hours is a tribute to the professionalism and prior preparation of our emergency readiness teams both in Colorado Springs and across the entire state.
Colorado Springs will recover and rebuild; that's a given. It will be a long time, however, before the complete impact of the last two days can assessed. One thing we can count on: Our emergency perparedness and response is second to none. That, by itself, provides confidence and hope for the future.