by Pam Zubeck
It was a catastrophic event that took a costly toll, but thanks to the brave and professional actions of our first responders, thousands of lives and properties were spared. A coordinated, multijurisdictional response evacuated 26,000 people in a matter of hours, while protecting homes in the fire's path and establishing fire lines that stopped it from expanding further into the city.Coordinated?
• When the fire swept into Mountain Shadows, the city had a mere four firefighting vehicles, or apparatus, assigned to that subdivision and all other land north to the Air Force Academy.Despite fire observed in Queen's Canyon earlier in the afternoon of June 26, Bach and other city officials refused to issue an evacuation order.
• The evacuation plan had been drafted only that morning, and was enacted minutes before the first homes burned.
• Local firefighters found themselves outgunned, and much of the help from other fire departments was nowhere close, because leaders sought those resources only after flames came into the city. Their chief staging area wasn't set up and equipped until houses were ablaze, and they didn't have a mobile command post until eight hours into Tuesday's firefight.
• When firefighters tried to reach command or each other, sometimes no one answered. Many weren't told exactly what to do and, at times, didn't know who was in charge.
• When additional resources did arrive, some were idled even as personnel amid the firestorm begged for help.
CSFD Capt. Michael Wittry had already moved his logistics base, the department's only source for supplies, twice before setting up at Coronado High School at 6 a.m. Tuesday. When the fire blew up that afternoon, things got confusing again.By sheer will and bravery, firefighters contained the damage, with help from police officers who in some cases worked next to firefighters without any protective clothing.
"'Staging is at Station 9.' was announced by unknown party," Wittry writes. "Captain Wittry tried multiple times to get permission or orders to move to that location. Getting no answer, he made the decision to move himself to Station 9. He did not have resources to move the entire staging operation that was already set up at Coronodo [sic], which included power, Internet access, food and water supplies."
Station 9 is at 622 W. Garden of the Gods Road. Wittry reports that he met up with Fire Marshal Brett Lacey and was told "there had been a call back of all personnel and they would begin to arrive shortly." Although the city had days to plan for a major campaign, Wittry writes that "Plans were quickly sketched out for how to manage the arrival of 150 firefighters. Supplies for staging at this point consisted of a [sic] pens and pads of paper. Fire Marshal Lacey was then directed to another assignment."