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Colorado Springs City Council probes wildfire evacuation plans

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Posted at 9:04 AM, Feb 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-23 16:18:18-05

COLORADO SPRINGS — Colorado Springs City Council continues an examination into a charge by some members of the community who say the city’s wildfire evacuation plans are outdated and inadequate. Council President, Tom Strand said they have heard from citizens commenting in previous council meetings, basically saying that since the Waldo Canyon Fire, "Nothing has changed in terms of our preparation and planning."

"We do update our evacuation plans very regularly," said Colorado Springs Police Chief, Vince Niski. On Tuesday, City Council members got a briefing on the status of emergency planning in the city from the Chief of Police, Fire Chief, Fire Marshal, and Director of the Office of Emergency Management. "Our goal is life safety and part of that is learning and getting better and getting more experience and improving the readiness,” said Fire Chief, Randy Royal.

The public leaders all reference the Waldo Canyon Fire from nearly ten years ago followed by the Black Forest Fire a year later, and the string of devastating fires across Colorado that have continued up until now. The say the response has been extensive not just in this region, but also across Colorado, to create better wildfire plans and strategies.

Tools like fire spotting technology, and shared resources are now in place. Colorado Springs and El Paso County combined two offices of emergency management into one. Emergency protocols, mapping, and evacuation plans are reviewed regularly. The minimum is every fire years; some are reviewed every year. The public safety leaders spent several hours giving details and answering questions about the robust emergency plans in the community. Strand said the presentation clearly countered the accusation of an outdated emergency plan. "I think in today’s briefing it was clearly shown to council at least, and I hope the public that, that's not true."

The origins of the discussion go back to citizens concerned about a requested zone change at 30th Street and Garden of the Gods Road. The proposal would have made way for a large apartment community. Nearby residents in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood who had been evacuated during the Waldo Canyon fire fought the zoning change saying the density of the development was unsafe because of the wildfire danger in the area.

Citizens want the city code updated to specifically address neighborhood density and wildfire evacuation. They want a section about evacuation in the city code chapter on development.

The mayor had the city’s legal staff draft a change to ordinance, but it is for the public safety section.

The proposed ordinance change was introduced at the city council session. Strand said there is more to come on this issue.