News: Academy firefighters recognized for Waldo Canyon fire efforts
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - More than 50 firefighters with the 10th Civil Engineer Squadron here received Air Force Achievement Medals and Air Force Civilian Achievement Awards in a pair of ceremonies Dec. 19-20 for their efforts in containing the Waldo Canyon fire, which burned 12 acres on the Air Force Academy in June but did not destroy any structures on base.
The 18,247-acre fire was the most destructive in Colorado history, killing two and destroying nearly 350 homes in the city of Colorado Springs while damaging more than 450 others.
Firefighters' heroic efforts kept the fire from breaking through containment lines on several occasions, said 10th Mission Support Group Commander Col. Michael Addison.
"That fire was a pretty close-run thing," Addison said. "It was a real battle." Ground crews directed airdrops of fire retardant from C-130 aircraft equipped with Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems.
Had the Waldo Canyon Fire broken through containment lines, "it would almost certainly have consumed everything in Pine Valley," Addison said. "But no structures were destroyed, no one got hurt, and that was due to the courage and skill of our firefighters.
"I'm very proud of them. They prove day in and day out why they are the best fire department in the Air Force," Addison added.
Andrea Caraway, a civilian firefighter, said she's proud of the entire department.
"I'm proud that we were able to help our local community," she said.
Airman 1st Class Taylor King, a military firefighter, said he was grateful for the support firefighters received in turn from the local community, which donated food, clothing and other items.
"It was very generous," he said. "Everywhere I went, everyone was crazy about firefighters. There was overwhelming support."
The Waldo Canyon fire started in the Pike National Forest June 23. By June 24, the 306th Flying Training Group had converted part of the airfield into a staging area for helicopters helping fight the fire. MAFFS-equipped C-130s with the 302nd Airlift Wing were brought in June 25 to assist.
The following day was the most destructive, as 65-mph winds and hot, dry weather created a horizontal "fire vortex" that rolled through Queens Canyon on the west side of Colorado Springs and into Mountain Shadows. That evening, 10th Air Base Commander Col. Tim Gibson evacuated base housing residents.
The Academy reached out to help the community after the fire. Cadets, some of whom had arrived for inprocessing even as smoke from the still-active fire billowed over the Colorado Springs, helped clear burned and dead wood from affected areas in August.
Investigators revealed in September that the fire was human-caused but that they had no information regarding the intent. The fire remains under investigation.
Receiving medals were:
Senior Airman Tylor Lamberson
Senior Airman Donnie Brown
Airman 1st Class Xavier Leal
Airman 1st Class Sulaiman Burns
Tech. Sgt. Jason Linta
Staff Sgt. Nicole Longwell
Senior Airman Francis Cooper
Airman 1st Class Everett Cowart
Staff Sgt. Barry McNeil
Airman 1st Class Blake Dwyer
Airman 1st Class Tieghan Fitzpatrick
Airman Blake Nelson
Senior Airman Jacob Frey
Airman 1st Class Daniel Garcia
Master Sgt. Jeffery Hackworth
Senior Airman Steven Rousseau
Staff Sgt. John Salinas
Senior Airman Sean Kaufmann
Airman 1st Class Tylor King