As fires across the nation continue to threaten homes and lives, several Colorado Springs firefighters took part in a realistic training Wednesday designed to test their reactions on battling wildfires in urban settings.
Data from the Colorado Springs Fire Department shows around 25 percent of the city’s population lives inside the wildland urban interface (WUI). The WUI describes where residential and natural areas, like forests or grasslands, intersect.
Battalion Chief Justin White said the challenge of containing wildfires burning in the WUI has developed over the last several decades, based on firefighting practices.
"For the last hundred years, we’ve suppressed those fires, so it’s allowed all those fuels to build up," White said. "And then we add a different fuel into that, and that’s the homes."
The WUI poses a significant problem and challenge in Colorado Springs, because of the unknown obstacles waiting for firefighters, according to Captain Michael Archuleta.
"There’s so much information as you’re driving up. You’re scouting out the whole area. You’re looking for hazards," Archuleta said. "You’re thinking about what we need to do. You’re trying to find out where the fire is and how to deal with it."
Instructors from some of the nation’s most prestigious fire departments, including Cal Fire, tested our firefighters on their response to a handful of hazards. That included theoretical power lines, propane tanks and emotional people.
"So, it’s not a normal forest fire-type environment that we go into, and we can move around freely," White said. "Now, we have people coming in and out. We have people trying to get in to get their things out, and people just trying to get out because of their safety, as well as the home, so it makes it challenging."
Beyond fighting the actual fire, firefighters have to constantly analyze the values at risk in the WUI — not just for the homes and families in danger, but also for themselves.
"Although trees are very important, and the landscape is very important, when you add structures into it, you’re talking about values," Archuleta said. "You’re talking about people. You’re talking about life safety a lot more."
The International Association of Firefighters organized the training program, which creates a consistent language and tactic plan for fire departments across the country.
That way, the next time southern Colorado goes through a Waldo Canyon or Black Forest Fire, everyone fighting it is on the same page.