Report Praises Response to Deadly Colorado Wildfire

By DAN ELLIOTT | April 5, 2013

A review of the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history released Wednesday found much to praise and few problems in the way Colorado Springs agencies responded.

Investigators say the June 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire on the northwest side of Colorado Springs was human-caused, but they still have been unable to determine whether it was intentional or accidental.

The fire destroyed 347 houses and charred 28.5 square miles. It prompted evacuations of nearly 29,000 people, according to the review by the city’s Office of Emergency Management.

Colorado Springs, Colo., June 30, 2012 --  Waldo Canyon Fire. Photo: Michael Rieger/FEMA
Colorado Springs, Colo., June 30, 2012 — Waldo Canyon Fire. Photo: Michael Rieger/FEMA

The report examined only how city agencies responded. It concluded that first responders reacted in an “incredibly professional and heroic manner.”

In one day, police and firefighters evacuated 26,000 people and saved 82 percent of the homes in the area directly affected by the fast-moving fire, the report said.

The report praised the planning and training by city personnel and said agencies cooperated well.

It said the city needs better ways to quickly notify other agencies when fire managers make key decisions, and that more personnel should be trained in logistics to support emergency responders.

Officials previously said 346 houses were destroyed, but the report raised that by one. It is the highest total of homes ruined by a Colorado wildfire.

The fire triggered insurance claims of $353 million, also the highest total in any Colorado wildfire, according to the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association. Carole Walker, director of the association, said Wednesday that number will rise after a one-year revision expected in June.

Measured by insurance claims, the costliest catastrophe in Colorado history remains a 1990 hailstorm in the Denver area. It caused $1.1 billion in damage when the figures are adjusted for inflation, the association said.

Homeowner insurance premiums in Colorado have risen about 10 percent over the past year compared with about 6 percent nationally, but the risk of hailstorms was a bigger factor in the increase than wildfires, Walker said.

Authorities announced in September the Waldo Canyon Fire was human-caused. The investigation remains open and a reward of up to $100,000 is being offered for information about the identity of the person who caused it.

Authorities said they pinpointed the spot where the fire started, but they have not released the location, saying it is part of the investigation.

Separately, Larimer County authorities said Wednesday that a resident accidentally started a 2-square-mile wildfire last month, and no criminal charges will be filed. Prosecutors said the resident was working on an electric fence on March 15 when a spark ignited dried grass. No homes were reported damaged.

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