Three fires raged across Colorado Springs on Thursday, one of which destroyed eight mobile homes, all prompting separate evacuation orders and a stark warning from officials with the Fire Department.
“You’ve got to be prepared. You’ve got to be thinking about this,” Fire Marshal Brett Lacey said in the aftermath of a fire near Stetson Hills Thursday. “These fires are happening all over the city. The public needs to take this very seriously. We need your help with this.”
Fire crews with Colorado Springs and other agencies were busy Thursday dealing with blazes in northeast Colorado Springs near Stetson Hills Boulevard, in central Colorado Springs off North Cascade Avenue, and near the Colorado Springs Airport in the area of Milton E. Proby Parkway.
The fire in the northeast part of town burned in the area of Summer Grace Street and Akerman Drive. At 10 p.m., officials said the fire was 100% contained at 30 acres.
About 500 homes were evacuating, affecting about 1,000 people, according to the Colorado Springs Fire Department. No homes or structures were burned. Some homes along with yard fences sustained minor damage.
Firefighters responded to a grass fire near Stetson Hills Boulevard and Peterson Road, fire officials said in a tweet just before 11:30. The fire spread down a drainage area and ignited a second fire near Anna Lee Way, firefighters said. Emergency responders evacuated homes between Anna Lee Way and Tutt Boulevard.
Colorado Springs Fire deployed 26 units or about 70 firefighters to combat the blaze. In addition, they received aid from fire crews with Cheyenne Mountain, Manitou Springs, Fort Carson and Black Forest. Approximately 100 Colorado Springs police officers assisted with evacuation.
Evacuees were instructed to go to UCHealth Park. Staff members at UCHealth Park made refreshments and facilities available for evacuees. The ballpark was open for an in-progress baseball game between Trinidad and Otero junior colleges when stadium officials were notified of the fire.
“We’re providing shelter for people seeking safety,” said Dean McKissock, sales manager and military liaison for the Rocky Mountain Vibes. “And we just happen to have some entertainment on hand as well.”
By 2 p.m., a few dozen evacuees had entered the park.
“We got a call (about the fire) at about 11:45,” said Traci Music, who brought her four children to the stadium. “We looked outside and it looked pretty bad, so we just grabbed a few valuables and got out of there.”
In a late update, police officials determined the cause of the fire was from smoldering ashes from a residential fire pit. One man was cited on suspicion of “Firing Woods or Prairie” a class 6 felony.
The next fire also happened late Thursday morning at the Skylark Mobile Home Park at 3831 N. Cascade Ave. Eight mobile homes were destroyed. No injuries were reported.
Crews battled 50-foot flames as 500-pound propane tanks used to heat mobile homes caught flame, Fire Department Lt. Aaron McConnellogue said.
Jeff Mason, 32, evacuated from Skylark Mobile Home with his 68-year-old mother and dog Sammie, after he heard “loud bangs” and “booms” outside and spotted propane tanks shooting flames into the air like “fire spouts.”
“When I looked out the window I could feel the heat through the window from the fire across the street,’ Mason said
Mason said he and his mother didn’t have a vehicle but gathered with others at the front of the mobile home park waiting for a van to take them to Grace Baptist Church, where they were met by an American Red Cross Disaster Relief team providing water, Gatorade and snacks.
In the third blaze, fire crews were originally dispatched just after 3:30 p.m. to Milton E. Proby and Powers Boulevard, according to Fire Department spokesman Capt. Mike Smaldino. Security Fire was first to arrive and evacuation orders were issued soon thereafter, due to how quickly the blaze was moving. Mandatory evacuation orders were sent to areas east and west of Powers.
The blaze grew to approximately 100 acres and prompted shelter-in-place orders for both the nearby Amazon Distribution Center and the Colorado Springs Airport. Airport officials initially shut the facility down to just inbound traffic but eventually closed the airport altogether. About 200 people were in the airport at the time, Smaldino said.
As of around 7 p.m., Smaldino wouldn’t say the fire was controlled or contained, but did say the blaze was no longer moving. He added that fire crews did burnout operations in which they lighted small fires in order to destroy high-fuel areas such as those with tall grass in order to better control the growth of the blaze. In an update just before 10 p.m., Smaldino said the blaze was 182 acres and 15% contained.
He said city and mutual aid department responded to the fire with 30 different fire apparatuses with 100-110 firefighters from Colorado Springs, Security, Fountain, Stratmoor Hills, Hanover, Fort Carson, Peyton, Calhan, Ellicott, Air Force Academy, Black Forest, Colorado Springs Utilities and Tri-Lakes/Monument Fire Protection District. He said 28 deputies and 63 officers with the Colorado Springs Police Department evacuated 50 homes. No structured were lost or damaged as the fire moved east of them.
Smaldino said that fire crews also had a pre-staged helicopter on scene that helped greatly with mitigating the fire damage.
El Paso County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Lt. Deborah Mynatt said the Alturas fire was sparked by a catalytic converter on the car of an El Paso County sheriff’s deputy who drove over a grassy area and got stuck while trying to make contact with a person during a suspicious-vehicle call Thursday afternoon. Mynatt said the fire is being considered an accident but that fire officials will investigate.
At a press conference for a fire near the Colorado Springs Airport later Thursday, Smaldino issued a reminder that this is just the beginning of the summer months. Days of high fire danger could be around for some time, especially with the high winds and low humidity the region has been seeing.
The Springs has seen some unseasonably dry weather with 43 red flag warning days on the year through May 9, meteorologists with the National Weather service in Pueblo said.
Even through the trying times for the Fire Department, Smaldino praised the cooperation between agencies.
“It’s amazing the cooperation we have down here. I listed all these different agencies. For Colorado Springs Fire, we had it at one point where we did have these other agencies coming and running out of our fire stations,” he said. “We have 23 fire stations here but there’s also the numerous cooperators that we have around us and that’s what we rely on … us basically helping our neighbors.”