Fort Carson on Monday admitted to causing 20 wildland fires in the past year alone. In an email to News 5, Fort Carson Media Relations Chief Brandy Gill said, "In the past 12 months we have had 20 training-related fires. Most of those only affected small, remote areas of post and were contained or extinguished very quickly because of our extensive fire-mitigation efforts and response protocol."
The email came in response to a request by News 5 for information regarding the number of fires reported on the Mountain Post from March 2017 to March 2018. On March 16, a fire caused by live ammunition training on a Fort Carson artillery range burned nearly 3,000 acres off Mountain Post property, destroying two homes, numerous outbuildings, and dozens of vehicles. Sunday, a wildfire caused by shooting on the Cheyenne Mountain Shooting Complex public shooting range burned more than 2,000 acres and forced the total closure of a roughly 10-mile stretch of I-25 for more than an hour.
Nearby residents and local elected officials are now asking Fort Carson whether there is more that can be done to minimize the risk of igniting fires during training exercises and whether training should be conducted during days with elevated fire danger.
"How important is it that they get that training done on a Red Flag day versus can they delay for a better opportunity that’s not Red Flag," asked El Paso County Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez, whose 4th District encompasses the Mountain Post. Gonzalez says he and other local leaders are scheduled to meet with Fort Carson brass on Friday to discuss what can be done to reduce the risk of future wildfires. "If there’s a way to work around some of that so perhaps they don’t do training on Red Flag days, then that would be ideal."
Fort Carson says it must train year-round to be combat ready in places like Afghanistan. "Our training policies dictate that any time a unit is executing live-fire training a firefighting detail is required to be on ground and ready to respond immediately," the emailed statement to News 5 said. "On high-fire danger days fire crews are pre-staged so they are ready to respond quickly in case a situation arises." Over the past year, Fort Carson experienced 233 days of medium to extreme fire danger, or nearly 64 percent of all days in a one-year span, according to a press release distributed on March 26. 26 of those 233 days were identified as Red Flag days. The email and press release did not indicate which, if any, of the 20 training-related fires were ignited on Red Flag days.