by Pam Zubeck
The Waldo Canyon Fire, which began June 23, has been 55 percent contained, fire officials announced this morning, and stands at 17,827 acres. Some 1,581 firefighters are on the line, and the cost of fighting the blaze totals $11.1 million so far.
Fourth Judicial District Attorney Dan May made his first appearance at a fire briefing today, saying he intends to prosecute looters and burglars who are damaging homes in evacuated areas to the fullest extent possible. He noted that the penalty for burglary is up to 24 years.
Addressing the criminals, May said, "You better get prepared. You better pack your bags. We intend to evacuate you from our community and we intend to evacuate you for many, many years."
He assured residents that the evacuated and damaged areas are being guarded, noting he'd been stopped 20 times during a tour there Sunday by police officers, the FBI and firefighters. "They're doing a tremendous job," he said. The Colorado National Guard has 183 soldiers and airmen in Colorado Springs assisting with security and traffic control.
All but about 1,150 people have been allowed in to their homes.
Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Jerry Forte said those impacted by the blaze will see their utility bills adjusted. All homes destroyed will not receive a bill. Those in evacuated areas will have their bills adjusted to remove water consumption, he said, noting that many residents left their sprinklers on before leaving. For those who had electric and gas service discontinued during evacuations, their bills will reflect no daily charges. For more information residents can call 448-4800. Hours have been extended on the call center line to 10 p.m.
Incident Commander Rich Harvey said firefighters from California, Minnesota and Colorado nailed the flareup in Williams Canyon near Cave of the Winds. "We got it," he said. "That spot is no longer a problem."
Harvey said his crews will continue mopping up the perimeter, which remains the priority. He also said predictions call for erratic winds and thunderstorms over the fire today. "We're prepared for it, and we'll deal with it," he said.
Fire Chief Rich Brown said firefighters met with homeowners in the burned area Sunday to try to explain why some homes were saved and others were not. He called it "a very rewarding day."