COLORADO SPRINGS – The memory of what happened almost seven years ago is always visible for some Colorado Springs residents.
In the hills behind Mountain Shadows, thousands of dead trees are all that’s left after the Waldo Canyon Fire rolled through in June 2012. Kathy Wooldridge, who lives in the neighborhood, said the emotions of being evacuated are still real.
“When we could finally see the flames coming over the hill, it was just almost surreal,” she said.
Wooldridge, like many others, is still thankful for the hundreds of firefighters that converged on western Colorado Springs to fight the fire and protect as many structures as they could.
“They left their families. They ran toward the danger while the rest of us drove away. Just very grateful,” Wooldridge said.
So, what if those firefighters weren’t there?
That was a big concern during the government shutdown, when federal firefighters were furloughed. The time off kept them from pivotal training.
“Yes, those were canceled, and we are working to adjust those trainings right now,” said Gregg Goodland, acting public information officer for the Pike and San Isabel National Forests and Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands.
Fire personnel train all year long, but their most important time is in January and February, when the potential for extreme fire behavior is usually low.
Goodland said the Forest Service will always be ready to fight fire, but the shutdown kept some employees from advancing their career and earning new certifications. Those certificates help staff upper-level positions, like crew bosses and incident management team personnel.
At the end of the day, if a fire ignites, they’ll be there.
“We are prepared, as we always are, to go into fire suppression operations right now,” Goodland said.
Right after the shutdown ended, Goodland said the Forest Service rushed to hire around 1,600 employees ahead of this year’s fire season.
The shutdown also prevented firefighters from conducting control burns to limit the amount of excess fuel on federal lands. Goodland said they began doing those operations once the shutdown was over.