Sunday, August 12, 2012

Life on the Edge (of Wildfire)

Colorado Springs Waldo Canyon fire
Remains of a house burned in Waldo Canyon fire (
In Colorado and the West, the most desirable real estate is also the most likely to burn.
When the Waldo Canyon fire ignited in the mountains near Colorado Springs this June, Cindy and Mark Maluschka started packing.

The evacuation zone mapped out by city officials ended two streets away from them, but the Maluschkas have seen fires spread faster than expected before.

The 2002 Hayman Fire - until this summer, the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history - had come within six miles of their old home in the forested hills of Woodland Park.

But when they moved to suburban Colorado Springs, they thought they would be safe. In their new neighborhood, Cindy Maluschka says, "there were more streets, more services, and more distance from the forest itself. We certainly felt safer from a wildland fire."

Even so, as June’s Waldo Canyon fire spread, she and her husband gathered documents, family photos, and the tooth their daughter, Amber, had recently lost. They put a clothes basket in the little girl’s room. "Pack this with all your most important things," her mother told her, limiting the number of stuffed animals the six-year-old could bring to her grandfather’s house outside the evacuation zone.

When the fire blew up three days later, Cindy and Mark were back at the house, trying to get some work done, when officials suddenly issued a mandatory evacuation order. Cindy opened their garage door and could see the mountain on fire.

"I felt the heat," she says. "I felt the pressure. It was kind of like tornado pressure." They had 10 minutes to pack the last things they would save - computers and clothes - and get out.

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