Preparations Underway For Major Evacuation Event in Ute Pass area

Rick Langenberg

The feared disaster strike that the lower Ute Pass region has avoided for years is still the talk of the community, with memories lingering from the Waldo Canyon fires of 2012 and the consequential floods.

Those blazes, which destroyed hundreds of homes in parts of Colorado Springs, may have been a blast from the past, since it occurred 11 years ago.  But for many locals, these memories haven’t been forgotten.

On that occasion, the entire region was evacuated for nearly two weeks, but escaped relatively unscathed from any major damage due to the amazing resolve of local fire departments. Since then, the communities of Green Mountain Falls, Chipita Park and Cascade have encountered some close calls, and if a sudden wind change occurred from fires across the highway, the lower Ute Pass areas could have faced serious devastation. These close calls have further served as an alarm bell for local residents, who live in what fire mitigation experts say is one of the most at-risk sections of the Pikes Peak region.

Decades of improper forest management haven’t helped the situation, according to experts.

But now, residents can get involved in participating in ways to prepare and defend against future natural disasters and play a key role in helping your neighbors. Plus, they could receive first-hand knowledge in what to do in handling disasters and coming to the aid of elderly individuals, who may need help evacuating. They will receive key training and could become, in essence, disaster first-responders.

On Monday (Sept. 25) a community meeting will be held at the Ute Pass Elementary School, starting at 6:30 p.m. The meeting, organized by the Pikes Peak Regional Office of Emergency Management, will outline procedures for the first-ever evacuation exercise performed in the Ute Pass. The actual exercise is planned for Oct. 7 and emergency management authorities are seeking participants from Green Mountain Falls, Chipita Park and Cascade.

Details on the  evacuation exercise will be announced at Monday’s meeting.

According to Green Mountain Falls Mayor Todd Dixon, the exercise will deal with evacuation and recovery.  “We want to get as many volunteers as we can,” said Dixon.

Dixon emphasized that recovery is an often overlooked factor for natural disasters, and a process that takes some time to resolve and ends up taking the brunt of the work.

The mayor contends that the majority of the emergency effort deals with recovery operations. For example, how do you deal with insurance claims for your lost property.  What do you do, when your house goes up  in flames?

Dixon said he wants to learn more about the specific role the mayor of GMF can play, if a disaster occurs.

Officials contend they don’t want these types of disasters to occur, but as the cliché goes, “Mother Nature gets to bat last.”

But in the last few years, leaders have mulled ways to better prepare the area for disasters. In fact, about five years ago, GMF was almost cut off and nearly became a mini-island, when Fountain Creek flood waters submerged the area and key parts of Ute Pass Avenue.

Since then, fire mitigation has become a calling card, summoning much attention.

Leaders have mulled a variety of evacuation test procedures. The Oct. 7 event will become the first formal, real-life exercise in preparation for a devastating wildfire.

For  more information, visit the GMF town web site and view the link regarding the upcoming meeting and evacuation exercise.