It started out ominously. The first call to a spa store netted a voicemail message that the road had been closed and the store evacuated. The next calls, to pool builders, went unanswered.
The Waldo Canyon wildfire, the most destructive in Colorado history, clearly was impacting pool and spa professionals on the outskirts of that state’s second most populous city, Colorado Springs.
Finally, Pool & Spa News reached a place that was open for business. “Oh, yes, I could see smoke, and the sky was orange [from the flames],” said Destiny Wilber, office manager at Arrowhead Spa & Pool. “I live on the east side of the city and when all the homes were burning, there was a lot of ash, and big pieces of paper were dropping to earth.”
While her pool building/retail/service company, nestled in Colorado Springs proper, was in no immediate danger, the same could not be said for its clients and employees. Some customers’ homes were in the path of the voracious flames, forcing them to flee to safety. Arrowhead’s main service technician lives in Woodland Park, a high-risk area, so he stayed close to home until a mandatory evacuation was called. Then he headed for the city to bunk with family.
No one felt safe, not even those within the city limits. And small wonder. As the entire sky turned an eerie yellow-orange and choking smoke and ash enveloped the community, the word “surreal” was frequently used to describe the scene. It would take 1,581 firefighters, assisted by heavy air tankers and helicopters, 12 days to contain the blaze 90 percent (as of July 5). At its peak, the wildfire forced 32,000 to evacuate; destroyed nearly 350 homes; left two people dead; and scorched 18,247 acres.
Over at Rocky Mountain Pool and Spa Care Inc., a 17-year-old building/service firm in Colorado Springs, it certainly hasn’t been business as usual. Like his fellow citizens, company owner Clayton Kearnes said that he had to deal with the air pollution and ash everywhere. In fact, many of his crew were busy cleaning ash out of local pools as he spoke with PSN; others were checking on job sites. Kearnes reported that he, too, had clients with homes in the fire zone.
At this writing, all but 3,000 of the Colorado Springs evacuees have gotten the all clear to return home. But officials warn them to watch out for looters and wild bears, both of which have been spotted in the fire zone. More than 30 residences have been burglarized and dozens of cars broken into, while the hungry bears, who also had to run for their lives from the fire, currently are nosing around abandoned homes, raiding garbage cans.
Meanwhile, three organizations prominent in the aquatics world — the USA Swimming and the U.S. Olympic Committee, with its adjacent training complex — also call Colorado Springs home. NSPF was the only one that had to evacuate, and it has relocated to another facility.
Final note: In one of the worst fire seasons on record, approximately 45 large wildfires are burning nationwide, with 36 of them in nine Western states. Meteorologists warn that Colorado Springs faces a new danger — rain and thunder, which may hit this week, causing flash flooding and triggering another round of evacuations.