Part 1 in a 5-part series
Current as of 5 p.m. June 25, 2012
FORT COLLINS, Colo. - On June 9, lightning sparked a fire in forested mountain terrain in Larimer County, Colo. By midnight, the fire, exacerbated by high winds, had grown so large that Gov. John Hickenlooper declared the High Park fire a disaster emergency.
The governor also activated the Colorado National Guard and authorized the use of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, which allows him to request additional resources from other states.
To date, 248 homes have been destroyed and 1,969 residences remain threatened. More than 83,000 acres have burned, causing an estimated $29.6 million in damages, making the High Park fire one of the worst natural disasters in Colorado's history.
Army National Guard helicopters and crews from four states, armed with Bambi Buckets, assisted local authorities wage the air campaign, which started June 10. Other Colorado National Guard members' expertise in firefighting, security and communications is currently being employed on the ground to ensure the civilian incident commander gets the best support the Colorado National Guard has to offer.
"The capabilities we provide are needs-based in support of the incident management team," said Master Sgt. Michael Simco, current operations non-commissioned officer in charge of the Colorado National Guard's Joint Operations Center in Centennial, Colo.
As of June 25, nearly 2,000 professionals, including Type 1 Incident Management Teams, have been involved in the firefighting effort, working round-the-clock to contain the fire and extinguish the flames. Additionally, teams are keeping the citizens of this northern Colorado community safe and secure by evacuating them from high-risk areas and preventing unauthorized access to those neighborhoods.
"For the incident management team, this is a campaign, not a battle, and the National Guard is just a small part of the coalition dedicated to suppressing the enemy that is this fire," said Lt. Col. Mitch Utterback, CONG liaison officer to the incident management team.
As for the men and women who've been called to fight this fire, some of whom have lost their homes in the midst of battle, this war is a personal one.
"We're not leaving until this fire is out," said Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Commander Bill Hahnenberg at a recent news conference.
All stories in this series:
Part 1: Orders received
Part 2: Outflanking the flames
Part 3: Conducting terrain flight operations
Part 4: Securing the perimeter
Part 5: Command and signal