Mistake Made Handling Colorado Waldo Canyon Fire: Report

May 1, 2013

A dispatcher made a mistake when she failed to relay a 911 call about a wildfire hours before it roared out of control, but no one knows if it would have made a difference in the damage it caused, according to El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa.

It was among two most destructive wildfires in Colorado’s history, both of which occurred back to back last year, and they will cost insurers roughly $450 million, a regional insurance association said. The massive figure for insured losses comes from the total 600 homes destroyed and other damages, according to the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association.

A man called on June 23, 2012 and said he saw a fire smoldering while he was hiking, the El Paso County sheriff’s office said. The dispatcher said the Pueblo Forest Service was already aware of it and would be there shortly.

However, fire crews already out searching for the fire were never told.

Four hours later, fire crews were still struggling to find the fire when the flames erupted. It grew for three days, then reached Colorado Springs, destroying more than 300 homes and taking two lives.

Records show the unidentified hiker warned that he smelled smoke and saw a spot that was smoldering. He even took pictures.

The dispatcher said the situation was under control.

“Pueblo Forest Service checked on that last night they said that they would be sending up another unit first thing this morning to check on it, but they are aware of it and they will be up there shortly this morning. OK?” she asked.

The man hung up without leaving an exact location.

“We tried to recreate and to see whether it would make a difference. It doesn’t really matter if it would have or it wouldn’t have, a mistake was made, that’s a fact. It would have been nice to get his information, put him in touch with them to better direct them. Looking back, they were actually looking in the wrong area,” Maketa said.

The dispatcher was disciplined and she felt very bad about what happened, Maketa said.

According to KKTV-TV, investigators said the pictures taken by the witness will not be released because the fire is still under investigation.

A review of the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history released in April found much to praise and few problems in the way Colorado Springs agencies responded.

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