By Senior Airman Patrice Clarke
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
The Waldo Canyon wildfire was the most destructive fire in Colorado history, with two lives lost and more than 340 homes destroyed. At its peak, more than 1,000 firefighters helped battle the blaze and more than 32,000 residents were evacuated from their homes. Evacuees included residents of the two housing developments on the U.S. Air Force Academy.
In a commentary to Academy personnel, Lt. Gen. Mike Gould, Air Force Academy superintendent, highlighted the efforts of all of the different agencies who were instrumental in battling the fire on the Academy.
“The chiefs’ [Academy Fire Chief Ernst Piercy and Deputy Chief Ken Helgerson] expertise and tireless efforts, as well as those of our brave young firefighters, were instrumental in protecting our community,” Gould said. “Seamlessly and rapidly blending into the National Incident Management Structure, they brought together equipment and manpower from across the region and nation, synergizing efforts of the Larkspur, Donald Wescott and Palmer Lake Fire Departments; Buckley, Peterson, Schriever and Vandenberg Air Force Bases and support from Fort Carson, Pueblo Army Chemical Depot, Cheyenne Mountain, U.S. Forest Service and Wyoming Air National Guard. These defensive operations saved our Academy from devastating fire damage.”
During the height of the fire, rotating teams of firefighters from Schriever Air Force Base assisted with fire mitigation on the Academy ensuring those structures’ survival, including a few historical buildings.
“We got a call asking for our assistance at the Academy and, of course, we went,” said Jerry Quintana, a firefighter with the Schriever Fire Department. “We wanted to do as much as we could.”
That included clearing small bushes, trees and leaves from around different Academy structures; anything that could cause or contribute if the fire spread further.
“Fire mitigation is making sure the grounds around structures are cleared so that the fire doesn’t have an easy time attaching to buildings,” said Quintana.
While at the Academy, the Schriever team was able to see the destruction the fire caused from a distance.
“We were there on that Tuesday night when the fire was really bad,” said Steve Leibensperger, a firefighter with the Schriever Fire Department. “It was significant even from our distance.”
At that moment and many more to come, the Schriever firefighters wished they could do more.
“Being a firefighter, you want to help as much as possible,” said Leibensperger.
Quintana echoed this sentiment.
“Every one of the firefighters here wish we were on the line helping right now,” said Qunitana. “A lot of our friends are up there battling that fire.”
The efforts of all the firefighters involved have paid off. Almost all evacuated Academy and Colorado Springs residents were able to return to their homes. As of Wednesday, the Waldo Canyon fire has been 100 percent contained.