With 70 percent containment on the Waldo Canyon Fire, most of it in Ute Pass and Cedar Heights, U.S. 24 was opened from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. July 1 to residents of Cascade, Chipita Park, Green Mountain Falls and the parts of Crystola in El Paso County. Mandatory evacuations for those areas were downgraded to pre-evacuation status.
At 1 p.m. the highway opened to the rest of the public but drivers were cautioned that firefighters were still working in the area and to be mindful of emergency vehicles. Those who didn’t need to drive through were asked to stay off the highway and no stopping would be allowed in Ute Pass.
Because natural gas service had been cut to those areas, residents were being asked not to try to relight their pilot lights without help from Black Hills Energy crews, who will be going house to house. As always, if Black Hills Energy customers think they smell gas when they enter their homes, they should leave immediately and call the Black Hills Energy emergency number, 800-694-8989.
The energy company lowered the natural gas flow to evacuated areas of Teller County as a precaution but those areas were never without power. The areas of Woodland Park that had been under mandatory evacuation were allowed to return home on June 30. That area remained under pre-evacuation status.
With more than 1,500 total personnel assigned to the fire, it has charred nearly 18,000 acres. Homes lost remain at 346 with two fatalities and a handful of people unaccounted for. The fire has so far cost almost $9 million to fight but there is no estimate yet on property damages.
Residents of most of the evacuated areas in Colorado Springs were allowed to go home Sunday. Garden of the Gods and most other city parks were reopened later that day and the Pikes Peak Highway was set for reopening July 2.
Later on July 1, the fire was upgraded to 55 percent contained. Containment was considered achieved at a line west of Rampart Reservoir and the far western edge of the fire. By July 2 showed only a minimal increase in size to 17,827 acres. Spot fires north of Rampart Reservoir were nearly 100 percent mopped up but smoke was still rising from interior islands of trees that had been left unburned.
As of July 2, there were still more than 1,500 personnel assigned to the fire as well as airtanker and helicopter support. All pre-evacuation notice for Teller County were also lifted on July 2.
The inciweb site for the Waldo Canyon Fire states that 14,071 acres of the fire were U.S. Forest Service lands; 3,609 acres were private land that included 1,516 acres in incorporated Colorado Springs and 147 acres were Department of Defense lands.
The estimated full-containment date still stands at July 12.