By Master Sgt. Christopher McCrady
721st Security Forces Squadron
CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN AIR FORCE STATION, Colo. — At about noon June 23, the Waldo Canyon Fire erupted near Manitou Springs. The fire affected El Paso and Teller counties, including Colorado Springs, Cascade, Chipita Park, Green Mountain Falls, Crystola, Manitou Springs and the U.S. Air Force Academy. The fire caused the evacuation of 32,000 residents, destroyed at least 346 homes, took the lives of two people, injured at least six people and burned approximately 18,247 acres of land — the most destructive fire in Colorado state history.
During the initial phases of the fire, first responders from El Paso and Teller counties quickly mobilized to battle the blaze; however, it was soon apparent that additional assistance was needed in order to contain the fire. The smoke and flames were clearly visible from Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, and the men and women of the 721st Security Forces Squadron realized they needed to do their part to support and protect not only CMAFS, but also their neighbors, including the Cheyenne Mountain State Park, which borders CMAFS to the south.
Due to extremely dry conditions, Colorado was already under a state-wide fire ban and Cheyenne Mountain State Park was no exception. Security forces professionals are not only concerned with threats to the security and safety within the perimeter of the installation, but also the areas bordering the perimeter, called the base security zone. The threat of a wildfire breaking out in the state park, essentially the doorstep of CMAFS, was deemed high — especially given concerns that this fire and several previous wildfires were deliberately started. The neighboring community of Broadmoor Bluffs was also on edge, calling in every plume of smoke, no matter how big or how far away. Should a fire have sparked in these areas, not only would the personnel and resources of CMAFS and the state park be threatened, but also the many residents in the surrounding neighborhoods.
A verbal agreement was quickly developed between 721 SFS and the Cheyenne Mountain State Park Rangers that allowed 721st SFS Airmen to conduct fire watch patrols in and around the park. These additional patrols were especially beneficial during nighttime hours, when there was little or no park ranger patrol coverage. The 721st SFS Operations Section implemented fire watch patrols in the state park, covering 1,680 acres of land and dry brush. 721st SFS Airmen dedicated more than 336 man-hours, aggressively patrolling the state park looking not only for signs of fire in the park and CMAFS, but also for any individuals breaking the fire ban. These actions were critical in deterring potential arsonists.
By using their manpower creatively to secure the base and its resources, the focus expanded from concern on securing the area within the CMAFS fence line to the challenge of securing the base security zone. The ability to think outside the box enabled an innovative working environment instead of a “not my problem” attitude. The patrolmen came across many patrons of the state park who thanked them for their service to El Paso County, the city of Colorado Springs and to the country. In the aftermath of the Waldo Canyon Fire, state park officials have welcomed the squadron’s continued assistance with these presence patrols as the threat of wildfires continued to intensify. The Cheyenne Mountain State Park was able to remain open during the Waldo Canyon Fire disaster due to the innovative actions of their park rangers and the men and women of the 721st Security Forces Squadron.