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Exclusive: When did the Waldo Canyon Fire start, and when did the feds know it?; Update: Confirmed – Friday smoke investigation

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By Michelle Malkin  •  June 29, 2012 11:56 AM

As you know, my family and I were evacuated Saturday afternoon on June 23 along with 11,000 other West side/Manitou Springs residents when the Waldo Canyon Fire erupted. According to the Colorado Springs fire public information unit and the city emergency operations center, local phone calls about the emerging blaze first came in around Saturday noon on June 23.

But what did the federal government officials know and when did they know it?

Waldo Canyon is located in the Pike National Forest.

According to a source, a group that included at least one federal firefighter was sent to look for fire on Friday night, not Saturday afternoon. The source added:

“Due to what I believe to be incompetence on the part of those managing the initial response to this incident, the Waldo Canyon fire was not located in a timely manner. I believe the ensuing tragedy that is now unfolding could have easily been prevented and thus view the actions of certain individuals as inexcusable.”

This morning, I talked to an official at the Colorado Springs fire public information unit who said that both her unit and the city emergency operations center were not aware of any fire search-related activity on Friday. I asked someone at the Joint Incident Command for their official timeline of when the fire began. They said Saturday, June 23.

Interestingly, federal fire investigators are seeking information from anyone who was in the Waldon Canyon or nearby Pyramid Mountain area on…Friday 6/22 or Saturday 6/23.

Wildland fire investigators are asking for the public’s help to solve the Waldo Canyon fire

Investigators are seeking the public’s help for possible leads to the exact cause of the Waldo Canyon Fire. U.S. Forest Service Investigators are looking for people who were in the Waldo Canyon area at or around time of ignition and may have seen something that will help the investigators. If you were in the Waldo Canyon or Pyramid Mountain area on Friday 6/22 or Saturday 6/23 please call 719-477-4205 and leave your name, contact number and someone will return your call. Investigators are hoping that with the public’s help, they can determine the cause of the Waldo Canyon Fire.

Waldo Canyon Fire Update
Rocky Basin 2 Incident Management Team
Incident Commander: Rich Harvey
For Immediate Release: date, time
Public Information: (719) 629-7322
Email for Media: waldojicfire@gmail.com
(email address for media use only please – give public phone number to use for information)
Phone for Media: (720) 202-8521
(Joint Information Center Open Daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.)

With so many national media reporters swarming our city and state to cover President Obama’s visit, it would be helpful if someone else would ask these questions.

***

Updates:

-I am told the question about a Friday night fire search was raised at an early local press briefing, but not answered.

-I have contacted the feds for comment/info. Will update if they respond.

-A local notes that there was a “small campfire” one valley over from Waldo Canyon, but that it was “unrelated.” Not sure how he knows that.

Update: After my blog post was published, the El Paso County Sheriff released this statement confirming my tipster’s information…

During the course of the Waldo Canyon Fire, there have been inquiries concerning smoke investigations in the Waldo Canyon area on Friday, June 22, 2012, one day prior to the start of the Waldo Canyon Fire.

On Friday, June 22, 2012, at approximately 7:49 p.m., a resident in the Crystal Park area spoke with the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office (EPSO) and reported seeing smoke three to five miles from their residence. The smoke was described as being in the mountains north of Cave of the Winds.

The EPSO Communications Center dispatched fire resources from several agencies to the incident to conduct a smoke investigation in Waldo Canyon. Once on scene, those agencies worked together, searched the area and were unable to locate smoke that night. However, since the investigation was challenged by the hours of darkness, it was determined that fire resources would return in the morning to follow up; this is a practice common to smoke investigations which are hampered by low light conditions.

Fire resources did return the morning of Saturday, June 23, 2012, to conduct follow up. They were still in the area when the calls rang into dispatch centers announcing the visible smoke and fire which is now known as the Waldo Canyon Fire.

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Update 7/2: The latest on the investigation…

The investigation into what caused Colorado’s most destructive wildfire continues as authorities examine video.

The Waldo Canyon Fire was human caused on June 23. Whether it was accidental, negligence or a deliberate act has yet to be determined.

The fire destroyed 346 homes, burned 17,659 acres and was 45 percent contained Sunday morning.

A cycling group from Carmichael Racing in Colorado Springs was nearby when the fire began. They were told to get out and get out fast…

…he video she took of the fire as the group made their way down the mountain is being examined by investigators. Some of the clues indicate the fire is burning in a remote area with some trails. There was no lightning in the area at the time.

“When we were up in the area it was a beautiful blue day. We were stopped there on our way to Rampart Reservoir and stopped and took pictures,” said Rynbrandt.

Because of that investigators believe the fire was not caused by an act of nature but rather by humans. How and why remain a mystery.

“The U.S. Forest Service has brought in a cause and origin specialist,” said El Paso County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Jeff Kramer.

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