At a noon press conference Wednesday at the United States Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Mike Gould called the Waldo Canyon Fire a disaster but at the same time beauty could be found in the situation.
“We’re facing a potentially devastating disaster right now. But I think it’s important for all of us to look at the beauty in this and that is the way this community, El Paso County, the state and Colorado Springs have come together to help each other and to offer assistance across the board it is a thing of beauty,” Gould said.
Gould said the academy has three primary priorities and that is to take care of the people, fight the fire and continuing the mission.
He said the fire is very unpredictable and the strategy is to try to catch it at the borders of the academy. If that fails he said the fire department will fall into a point defense where they will try to protect their high value assets such as the hospital, the clinic and the cadet area.
At present time there has been nearly 2,000 people evacuated from the base housing areas of Douglas Valley and Pinion Valley. The cadet area is on a pre-evacuation notice and the base is closed to all visitors.
The academy is preparing to receive about 1,000 members of the class of 2016 tomorrow. Gould said they have made one modification to in-processing and that is to receive the appointees at the Cadet Field House rather than Doolittle Hall which is where the basic cadets would normally arrive.
“Once we get the class in and swear them in as our newest members of the Air Force we have a decision to make whether we start their initial training in the cadet area, which right now we are postured to do, or perhaps, and this goes back to the great community relations, Discovery Canyon Campus, up the road on Northgate (Boulevard) which has offered their facility,” Gould said.
Approximately 10 acres have burned on the southwestern corner of the academy and there are concerns with Blodgett Peak which is located 200 yards from the academy’s boundaries and at least a quarter of a mile from structures.
“The situation is still very fragile,” Col. Tim Gibson, the 10th Air Base Wing Commander for the academy, said. “There is a reasonable likely hood that the fire will continue to grow and it will depend greatly on the weather conditions in the next six hours or so.”
Ninety firefighters are currently helping to fight the fire and Gibson said about half of them are assigned to the academy while the rest are assigned to six other fire departments in the local area as well as firefighters from Peterson, Schriever and Buckley Air Force Bases.
Gibson said if the fire proceeds northbound on the western slope the cadets will not be evacuated.
“The cadet area is by far the safest place on the United States Air Force Academy,” Gibson said, adding that it is because of the structures and the way they were built, prepared terrain and low grass around the cadet area proper.
However the cadets would have to be evacuated if the fire should proceed northbound on the front slope of the Front Range. There are plans for the cadet’s to go stay with their sponsor families if evacuated.