By Dan Elliott
The Associated Press
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Crews battling the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history say they were better prepared to take on the flames because of lessons learned fighting last year’s Waldo Canyon Fire, a similarly devastating blaze that devoured hundreds of homes and killed two people only a few miles away.
When the thickly wooded rural region north of Colorado Springs known as the Black Forest began to burn this week, authorities swiftly evacuated tens of thousands of people from a swath of land larger than the Denver metropolitan area. They immediately began hand-counting destroyed houses to get information out to nervous homeowners. And they rushed federal troops and aircraft into action, cutting the red tape that had grounded those resources a year ago as smoke clouds billowed over Colorado.
Within an hour, El Paso County had its emergency operations center up and running and summoned aircraft from nearby Peterson Air Force base. Rep. Doug Lamborn called the federal center in Idaho that coordinates western firefighting to speed up the process of clearing the planes. Gov. John Hickenlooper mobilized the Colorado National Guard, and troops began to help secure the rapidly growing evacuation zone.