By Michael Golembesky
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — The hours were long, the work was hot, exhausting and dangerous, but for firefighters from the 21st Civil Engineer Squadron fire department, the Black Forest Fire was just another day to support the community in a time of need.
Thanks to a mutual aid agreement between the 21st Space Wing and the city of Colorado Springs, no time was wasted in providing firefighting assistance during the initial hours of the Black Forest Fire. The fire raged out of control only 14 miles north of Peterson AFB, consuming at least 509 homes and devouring more than 14,000 acres of tinder-dry Colorado forest.
“We had two roles; a supportive role to backfill personnel from Cheyenne Mountain (AFS) and then we were directly up there in Black Forest,” said Master Sgt. Jerry Reynolds, assistant chief of operations with Fire and Emergency Services Flight here. “We assigned two divisions to support that operation.”
While providing support in Black Forest, Peterson firefighters were assigned to the “Zulu division,” which had the responsibility of protecting structures that made it through the initial path of the blaze, on the look for any spot fires that could have reignited. According to Reynolds, Peterson firefighters were responsible for safeguarding approximately 120 homes from damage and directly saved three houses from approaching flames.
During an interview, Reynolds was asked what personally motivated him to keep going back out to work on the fireline as the long hours and fatigue began to affect him and his team. “It is to help. The Air Force invested a lot of money in me and my training; this is how I give it back and show what I can do,” he said.
Operating inside the fire zone is extremely dangerous, even when working in areas where the fire has already ripped through.
“The weather was the most challenging thing; the winds changing, thunderstorms coming across, just not knowing what is going to happen,” he said while recounting his experiences inside of the fire zone. “One minute the wind is blowing this way with the fire moving away, and then it comes right back the other way, right towards you.”
The Peterson firefighters witnessed first-hand how fire mitigation done by home owners plays a large factor in many homes being saved.
“What we saw in our area was just good basic housekeeping and fire mitigation, clearing out the pine-needle layer, trimming up trees and even including what you keep in your shed,” he said when talking about things home owners did prior to the blaze to help protect their homes.
When the call came for help, Reynolds said he was glad to help.
“The call came and we went. We did some hard work for them that made us proud,” he said when asked about how it made him feel to be one of the responders to the Black Forest Fire.
Peterson AFB has had a strong and healthy partnership with the Colorado Springs community for decades, proving once again that Team Pete stands ready to answer the call in times of need.
“We are here, we are trained and ready to come to the fight,” Reynolds said.