by Pam Zubeck
City, county, state and federal officials gathered again this morning to brief the media and others about the spread of the Waldo Canyon Fire, which has grown to 15,324 acres and has claimed an undetermined number of homes.
The theme of the briefing was that officials are working under a unified command. "It doesn't make us weaker," said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Jerri Marr. "It makes us stronger. We're committed to this fight, and we are going to be in this together in a unified command."
Springs Fire Chief Rich Brown said his department is on the offensive, not the defensive, in saving homes west of Centennial Boulevard and south of the Air Force Academy where most residents have been evacuated. About 32,000 people have been put out of their homes so far, officials said.
Brown said the fire is "not remotely close to being contained" after high winds thrust the fire into the city limits yesterday in the Mountain Shadows area.
Police officers and firefighters from the region are pitching in, so Police Chief Pete Carey said not to be surprised to see officers from other jurisdictions directing traffic and carrying out other emergency tasks.
El Paso County Sheriff Lt. Jeff Kramer called the fire "unprecedented." He reemphasized that everyone is pulling together.
Rich Harvey, the incident commander for the Type 1 federal firefighting team, said the U.S. 24 line is holding and that resources have been requested from wherever they're available. About 1,000 firefighters were on the line this morning.
Shelters are set up at Cheyenne Mountain High School, Lewis-Palmer High School, the southeast YMCA and Summit Middle School in Divide.
The Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region has set up an additional shelter at 3650 N. Nevada St.
Jill Law with El Paso County Public Health urged people to stay inside, due to the smoke.
Harvey said firefighters fear another day of high winds and possible thunderstorms could again drive the fire and cause spotting by throwing embers up to a half mile away. One lump of embers made it across Rampart Range Reservoir yesterday.
Bret Waters, the city's emergency management director, said evacuations will be based on fire behavior through the day.