If a 911 dispatcher had handled an incoming call differently, it is possible that the disastrous Waldo Canyon Fire could have been suppressed long before it killed two people and burned 18,000 acres and 347 homes in Colorado Springs.
On April 19 we covered the time line on the fire, including the fact that it took firefighters 16 hours to find it after the first smoke report at 7:50 p.m. on June 22, 2012. Between 7:30 a.m. and 7:50 a.m. the next day another 911 caller reported the fire and indicated that he had been running on a trail and apparently had been close to the fire and knew the actual location. But the dispatcher said the Forest Service was responding, and thank you. Four hours later at noon firefighters finally found the fire 16 hours after the first report.
Dispatcher: “On Saturday, June 23, 2012 at 7:50 a.m.”
Dispatcher: “This is the El Paso County Dispatch.”
Caller: “I’m calling on the suspected Waldo fire; I was running the trail today and went up on one of the dog legs after I smelled a little bit of smoke. There’s a spot about a couple hundred feet wide that’s still smoldering a little bit.”
Dispatcher: “Right….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. Okay?”
Caller: “Yeah. I just wanted to make sure.”
Dispatcher: “Sure. Thank you.”
The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office report about the fire mentioned the runner’s call:
…[The caller] was advised that responding agencies were aware of the report. The reporting party’s contact information or specific location was not captured or reported to responding agencies as the dispatcher believed responding agencies were aware of the location of the fire.
Later in the Sheriff’s report, the call was referred to again:
…Pinpointing more specific location would potentially expedite response. Obtaining specific information from witnesses as to their location with respect to the sighting of smoke/fire and responding to reporting parties’ locations as they were reporting signs of the fire would more narrowly identify the location of the fire.
There is no indication in the reports that the U.S. Forest Service requested a helicopter or any other aerial resources to assist in locating the smoke, which was in the Pike National Forest just west of Colorado Springs.