Colorado Springs Military Newspaper Group

Schriever Sentinel

2013 in Review: A look back at the Black Forest fire

(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Robert Cloys) Staff Sgt. Benjamin Wierzba, 4th Space Operations Squadron, sorts scrap metal from a home destroyed in the Black Forest fire. Several members of 4 SOPS came together June 26, 2013 to help one of their own sort through the ashes of their home. Volunteers from the squadron also plan to help with two additional homes lost to 4 SOPS members.

(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Robert Cloys)
Staff Sgt. Benjamin Wierzba, 4th Space Operations Squadron, sorts scrap metal from a home destroyed in the Black Forest fire. Several members of 4 SOPS came together June 26, 2013 to help one of their own sort through the ashes of their home. Volunteers from the squadron also plan to help with two additional homes lost to 4 SOPS members.

50th Space Wing Public Affairs

Considered the most destructive in Colorado history, the Black Forest fire, which began June 11, 2013, killed two Schriever members, destroyed 486 homes, damaged 37, charred more than 14,000 acres, and caused more than $85 million in damage.

But in the wake of this tragedy, Team Schriever did what it does best and pulled together as a team to lend a helping hand.

As several thousand residents were evacuated, individuals and groups at Schriever Air Force Base mobilized to provide help to the victims as well as the responders.

When news of the fire spread, the 50th operations Group Standardization and Evaluation Division reached out to help. Sixteen people volunteered for three-and-a-half hours at the Care and Share Food Bank June 12, 2013.

As giant plumes of smoke rose over the northern edge of Colorado Springs, Schriever firefighters knew the call was coming, and it did. The fire department received the call for mutual aid during the afternoon of June 12, 2013, and by early evening it had a crew on scene.

Ultimately, Schriever sent eight crew rotations to help save lives and homes in the heavily-wooded Black Forest neighborhood during a five-day period. Nineteen Schriever firefighters worked to extinguish the blaze, with many pulling 12-hour shifts.

One of those responders was Capt. Jeremy Hancock, deputy flight commander of operations training at the 527th Space Aggressor Squadron here. A space operator by trade, Hancock has been donning a second uniform in his off time for nearly 13 years since completing the fire academy his senior year in high school. For the second time, he volunteered as a fire fighter with the Ellicott Fire Protection District.

As more than 38,000 people evacuated from their homes, many went to the Palmer Ridge High School shelter, one of the biggest shelters set up for evacuees. Thea Wasche, 50th Force Support Squadron deputy commander, was also there, not as an evacuee, but as an American Red Cross volunteer.

She and her registered therapy dog, Lacey, have been volunteers for more than four years and quickly responded to the shelter at the onset of the Black Forest fire. As a Red Cross shelter management volunteer, Wasche helped set up the Palmer Ridge High School shelter.

Several members of the 4th Space Operations Squadron also came together June 26, 2013, to help one of their own sort through the ashes of their destroyed home. Volunteers from the squadron helped with two additional homes lost to 4 SOPS members.

Even in the face of disaster, Team Schriever has once again proven they can pull together and overcome any obstacle.

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