Five Years Later: Remembering The Waldo Canyon Fire

Flames of the Waldo Canyon Fire race down into western portions of Colorado Springs, Colo. on Tuesday, June 26, 2012. A helicopter tries to slow it down before it left a trail of destruction, burning homes and buildings in its path.
Credit Bryan Oller / AP

On June 23rd, 2012, a plume of smoke rose from the foothills west of Colorado Springs. It was the first sign of what would become one of the most destructive wildfires in Colorado history. By July 10th, 2012, when the fire was declared 100% contained, it had claimed two lives, more than 18,000 acres of land, and 346 homes in Colorado Springs' Mountain Shadows neighborhood. 

Five years have passed, and while the debris has been cleared and many homes rebuilt, the memories of those harrowing days have hardly faded for those most affected by the blaze. 

In honor of the fifth anniversary, 91.5 KRCC invited people to share their stories from the Waldo Canyon Fire. We heard from residents of Mountain Shadows -- some who lost their homes, some whose homes were spared -- as well as firefighters, police officers, city administrators, and others who contended with the fire and its aftermath. 

All through the week of June 26th-30th, 91.5 KRCC will be broadcasting those stories during Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Additional interviews will also be posted on this page. 

You can share your memories from the Waldo Canyon Fire on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram using the hashtags #waldocanyonfire, #waldofire or #wearecos. 

Special thanks to Roslyn Block, Eddie Hurt, Nora Gledich, Kim Melchor, and Gordon Brenner for their help on this project.

Jake Brownell / 91.5 KRCC

Several months prior to the Waldo Canyon Fire, Myrna Candreia had a premonition.  "Something inside me told me, 'You need to prepare for a fire,'" she recalls.  "I had developed this feeling inside that things weren't good. Maybe it was because of the drought we were having?"

One week before the fire, she went to Staples, bought boxes and set them up, but didn't fill them.  "I could have been fully prepared and a lot more prepared.  I wasn't.  I got a few things out," she says.

Courtesy of the City of Colorado Springs

Randy Royal remembers exactly where he was when he first spotted smoke rising from the Waldo Canyon Fire. It was Saturday, June 23rd, 2012. 

"I got called out around 10 or so in the morning for a rollover accident on Bijou and I-25," recalls Royal, who was a battalion chief with the Colorado Springs Fire Department at the time. "I cleared that, went to a high-angle at Garden of the Gods, and as I was driving down Highway 24, I looked up and the column [of smoke] was right in front of me."

Jake Brownell / 91.5 KRCC

Parkside resident Mike Finkbiner was a roofing contractor during the original construction of the Colorado Springs subdivision, and says Mountain Shadows as a whole was "pretty well planned" when it was built in the 1980s.  It wasn't until 2002 that he moved into the community, and then to a different home in Parkside in 2005.

Courtesy of Eddie Hurt

Eddie Hurt has been president of the Mountain Shadows Community Association since shortly after the Waldo Canyon Fire. In that role, he's played an active part in the effort to rebuild Mountain Shadows, the neighborhood that he and his family have called home for 12 years. Unlike some of his neighbors, Hurt didn't lose his home in the fire, but that's not to say he wasn't affected.

Jake Brownell / 91.5 KRCC

Retired electrical engineer Barry Timmons and his wife relocated to Colorado to be closer to family, and lived in the Parkside neighborhood of Colorado Springs for three years before the Waldo Canyon Fire claimed his home.

"It's just a nice area, it was a nice little home," Timmons says.  "It was very conducive to us being a retired couple."

Jake Brownell / 91.5 KRCC

Carla Albers and her family moved into their Mountain Shadows home in 1990.  They'd always loved the westside and figured it would be a starter home, but ended up loving the neighborhood and the area.  

"It just ended up being up one of those neighborhoods where a lot of younger couples moved in with a lot of kids," she recalls.  "It was just a really great place to raise a family."

Their house was among the nearly 350 homes lost in 2012's Waldo Canyon Fire.

Jake Brownell / 91.5 KRCC

Cindy and Mark Maluschka moved into their home in Mountain Shadows in 2010. 

"We looked at a lot of houses before we found that house," says Cindy, "when we walked in we knew it was the house."

"It fit us really well," adds Mark. "It was a beautiful house."

During the Waldo Canyon Fire, hundreds of first responders took part in the effort to fight the fire and evacuate neighborhoods threatened by the blaze. It was a massive undertaking, requiring coordination among numerous local, state, and federal agencies.

Jake Brownell / 91.5 KRCC

When the Waldo Canyon Fire broke out five years ago, Nick Gledich found himself in two roles. On the one hand, he's the superintendent of District 11.  A number of schools were threatened by the blaze; another served as a staging area for firefighters and first responders.  On the other hand, Gledich was also among the Mountain Shadows evacuees.

Jake Brownell / 91.5 KRCC

Polly Dunn moved to the Mountain Shadows neighborhood of Colorado Springs after retiring from her job as a teacher in District 11. She lived there for several years before the Waldo Canyon Fire took her home in 2012. 

Jake Brownell / 91.5 KRCC

Allan Creely and his wife Sally moved to the Mountain Shadows neighborhood of Colorado Springs in 1998. Both Allan and Sally had retired from the military, and they saw Mountain Shadows as the perfect place to settle.