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Friday, July 6, 2012

WALDO CANYON FIRE: 98 percent contained, flooding a concern

RYAN MAYE HANDY
2

Two weeks after smoke from the nearly-contained Waldo Canyon fire first billowed from the canyons behind Cedar Heights, Colorado Springs is transitioning into the next phase of the disaster: the aftermath.

With the 18,247-acre fire 98 percent contained on Friday night, the Type I incident command will pass management of Colorado’s most destructive fire to a Type 3 team Saturday morning.

The neighborhoods lining the charred ridges on the city’s northwest side could face a new challenge from Mother Nature Saturday in the way of heavy rain and flash floods. The Waldo Canyon fire vaporized vegetation on hillsides, leaving barren, charcoal covered slopes.

Such burn scars could heighten flash flood potential for years to come, according to the Manitou Springs city officials. Some fire crews spent recent days terracing the hillsides with water bars — large trenches dug into the earth to catch flood waters.

Six more streets in Mountain Shadows area were opened to residents Friday night, and Colorado Springs Utilities crews have a few hundred homes left among the initial 42,000 on their list for gas service restoration.

Fewer than 1,000 people remain evacuated in city, leaving only 258 homes in the evacuation zone. Much of the decimated Mountain Shadows neighborhood has been re-opened to residents, who have returned to surviving homes or have begun to pick through the rubble of those that were destroyed. A few streets completely leveled by the fire, such as Majestic Drive, remained closed.

For those cleaning out homes along Flying W Ranch Road, there will be two large Dumpsters at Chipita Elementary School, 2340 Ramsgate Terrace, all day Saturday. The Dumpsters are for spoiled food, but are not meant for hazardous waste, such as batteries, paint, or pesticides.

After making swift progress through the first two phases of its three-phase restoration project, Colorado Springs Utilities on Thursday dismissed extra hands on loan from Xcel Energy, and completed the third phase of gasline repairs Friday as 76 more homes were opened to their owners. Only a few hundred customers have not requested that their gas services be turned on, said Pat Moyer, general manager of Customer Field Services and Measurement. Most of those are vacant or have owners away on vacation, Moyer said.

Along with homeowners, officials have begun to calculate the costs of the fire’s destruction. The Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center estimated the cost of fire fighting efforts at $15.7 million. Utilities has yet to calculate the cost of water from Rampart Range and Nichols reservoirs used in fighting the fire. Bill Cherrier, a utilities spokesman, said Tuesday that Utilities intends to apply for federal disaster grants to help cover costs of repair and water loss.

Meanwhile, funds continue to pour into the Waldo Canyon Fire Victim Assistance Fund organized by Pikes Peak United Way. As of 4 p.m. Friday, the organization had collected $535,806.



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