By Beth Dodd
A standing room only crowd filled the Woodland Park City Council Chambers for a community meeting led by City Manager, David Buttery, at 11:00 a.m. Thursday morning.
Buttery praised the community for calmly and quickly evacuating during the mandatory evacuation imposed in parts of the city yesterday morning. The remainder of the community is on standby. The evacuations were done as a conservative safety measure to ensure that people have plenty of time to get out of harm’s way.
Meeting attendees were reminded to talk to their neighbors who may not have TV, cell phone, or internet, if the evacuation orders should change. If you have a land line listed in the phone book, you are automatically included in the reverse 911 system, which will notify you if evacuations orders change. If you use a cell phone you must register it. You can do this at www.elpasoteller911.org.
The Teller County Sherriff’s office is patrolling the evacuated areas as well as the standby areas, and they are secure. The standby area includes the neighborhoods in unincorporated Teller County east of County Road 25/Tranquil Acres Road and south of Painted Rocks Road and west of CO Hwy 67. There is no indication of when any evacuation orders may be lifted.
Many people in Teller County are feeling slighted by a perceived lack of media attention to this side of the fire. Buttery reminded the crowd that “no news is good news” meaning that the areas in the greatest danger are getting the most attention. KRDO and KKTV were at today’s meeting as well as The Mountain Jackpot. It is now being estimated that 300 homes were consumed when the fire broke into the Mountain Shadows area of Colorado Springs on Tuesday.
The latest news from the Ute Pass side of the fire was a flare up Thursday morning about half a mile below the ridge at Rocky Top Campground caused by winds from the southeast. The smoke was clearly visible from Woodland Park and the smell came into the meeting room.
This is not a cause for worry according to Buttery, who said that a stout fire line has been constructed in front of it. One of the C-130’s has also dropped fire retardant there. Fire fighters are in positions along both sides of Highway 24 to watch for possible spot fires. There is also a fire line being cut along the old Jeep trail from the top of Kings Crown to Crystola in case a fire comes down from Rampart Range. At this point, the leading edge of the fire is still up on Rampart Range and is roughly 1.5 miles from Woodland. 3 U.S. Forest Service divisions are working in the area with the support of at least one helicopter.
Woodland Park Mayor Turley arrived late to the meeting fresh from a tour of the fire zone between Rampart Reservoir and Ute Pass, “I feel a lot better having seen what I saw,” he said. There is a fire line from the ridge southeast of Crystola going up to Rampart Range Road, as well as three additional contingency lines in progress.
Weather conditions were milder yesterday and the fire grew from 15,324 acres to 18,500 acres overnight, with no more structures lost. The latest maps show the line holding on the south side of Rampart Reservoir, but in the pass the fire has advanced from Wellington Gulch to Sand Gulch to the Rocky Top/ Lucky 4 area. Erratic winds are the greatest concern at this stage.
The Teller County Sheriff continues to work on finding the suspected arsonist. No new fires have started in the county in the past two days, although there have been fires in neighboring counties.
Woodland Park’s Post Master, Mario Madrid, clarified the mail situation at the meeting. If you normally get home delivery and you are in the mandatory evacuation area, or if you have a P.O. Box, your mail is being routed to the Divide Post Office starting today. Yesterday’s mail is in the boxes and cannot be retrieved by the post office, but the lobbies at the Main and Tamarac post offices are open. If you receive home delivery and are in the stand-by area, you will continue to receive your mail there.
For outgoing mail, the big blue public mail boxes around town are out of service. This includes the parking lot mail boxes at Tamarac, the Main Post Office, and Safeway. Take all of your outgoing mail to Divide. If you are in the standby area and you have a mail slot or mail box for outgoing mail, you can send it from home.
There was some confusion about the status of trash service. As best we could tell Waste Management is still picking up trash in the stand-by areas, but not in the mandatory evacuation areas of Woodland Park.
Private organizations are at their own discretion whether or not to stay open. Safeway, Walgreen’s, City Market, and the local gas stations are open today, but Wal-Mart and McDonald’s were closed. The Pikes Peak Regional Hospital emergency room is still open, although they are technically in the mandatory evacuation area, but most individual doctor’s offices inside the hospital building are closed. Pikes Peak Vista Medical Center in Divide remains open.
The Teller County Regional Animal Shelter in Divide (TCRAS) is open and has room for small animals. There are in need of portable cages and kennels, and volunteers to walk dogs.
A number of people in the community have received recorded phone calls from the 505 area code asking for donations of money to help fire evacuees. These are a scam, so please make sure you give only to legitimate organizations.
U.S, 24 is likely to stay closed through the weekend. CDOT is supposed to be meeting on Monday to re-asses the situation then.
Woodland Park will hold another public meeting tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. and will continue to do so daily. There is also a daily public information meeting at 7:00 p.m. in Divide at Summit Elementary, in addition to the 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. news conferences on TV and online.