Sallie Clark Mayor | Colorado Springs, CO

Sallie Clark's Blog: The Mayor's Role in Wildfire Preparedness and Evacuation Planning

The Waldo Canyon Fire was one of the most devastating fires in Colorado Springs history Photo: Sallie Clark
The Waldo Canyon Fire from Highway 24 West-Photo: Sallie Clark

Wildfire Preparedness Matters.

It seems like only yesterday when at a meeting to plan a fundraiser for the Old Colorado City Historical Society, a reporter appeared at my neighbor’s door and informed us of the city’s intent to close our neighborhood fire station. What followed was a debate over public safety resources, a recommendation to sacrifice our local fire service to support a newer area of town. And somehow, I became the spokesperson to save Fire Station 3, attended endless city council meetings, took to the radio and tv, organized rallies, distributed flyers and our neighborhood learned how to fight city hall, together. Ultimately, Fire Station 3 was saved and resources were provided to staff Fire Station 9. It’s what spurred my passion in running for city council and my accidental step into public office, to support neighborhoods, small-business and bring a new perspective to the council dais. Fast forward to today, where city resources continue to fluctuate, and our city continues to struggle with growth and needed services.
Our community has personally witnessed multiple wildfires, flash floods, “bomb cyclone” snow events, torrential rains and devasting windstorms. We know that disasters strike without warning and it’s not a matter of if, but when. How we prepare for those incidents is one of the most important functions of our government.
The recent concerns that citizens brought forth were predicated from those who witnessed first-hand, long evacuation times in hours, not minutes, and heavy traffic congestion and gridlock while trying to evacuate during the Waldo Canyon Fire. Just imagine how frightening this was to people trying to escape, trapped in their cars as the Waldo Canyon Fire raged around them. In 2021, neighborhood groups approached city officials with concerns and potential solutions on addressing life-safety issues. While a city ordinance was eventually passed last year, it only addressed a fragment of planning for a mass evacuation event.
An article by Mary Shinn in The Gazette, July 9, 2022, Fight over wildfire evacuation planning heads to the Colorado Springs City Council stated, “Advocates say the draft ordinance does not include any of the specifics they asked for in November following presentations by evacuation experts. As part of that meeting, councilmembers heard about the long-evacuation times residents would face trying to flee a wildfire in the Broadmoor neighborhood and other areas west of Interstate 25…”
As mayor, I will immediately convene citizen groups, stakeholders and staff to research best practices from across the country. One such example established by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), is NFPA 1616, a standard for “Mass Evacuation, Sheltering and Re-entry Programs”. According to NFPA 1616: Section 1.2 Purpose. This standard shall provide public officials, private stakeholders, emergency management personnel, and emergency responders the essential elements, common terminology, roles, evacuation, stages, sheltering, and re-entry phases.
This standard will be the beginning of my work as mayor and will be the start of a robust and comprehensive process to engage our citizens, the business community, public safety professionals and our city to create evacuation planning that resolves neighborhood concerns. I remember when I was first elected to city council, another councilmember told me that I was too focused on public safety. While I have broadened my perspective since my early city council days with experience at all levels of government, one thing I won’t change is my strong and steadfast support for the safety of our citizens.

Sallie Clark for Colorado Springs Mayor