Marc Snyder was worrying about where to send his family and what to take from his home.
In the early morning hours of Sunday, the Manitou Springs mayor was facing the same mandatory evacuation order that all his constituents were facing. But unlike everyone else, Snyder had also sat in meetings with the town's new fire chief, Keith Buckmiller, deciding whether an evacuation should be called.
The process was more exacting than Manitoids — many of whom were annoyed or terrified to be awakened after midnight by reverse-911 calls — might have guessed. (Disclosure: I was among the evacuees.)
And it remains in place. With the fire continuing to rage, mandatory evacuation could happen again, as Snyder explained to the Independent on Monday.
Indy: What was the evacuation plan? Why did we evacuate?
Snyder: The first thing you've got to realize is how fluid and how ever-changing the situation was. I actually met on Saturday night from midnight to 12:30 with all of our emergency personnel. At that point we had evacuated approximately 15 homes from the north side of Highway 24, basically Little Switzerland area, because we thought if any part of town was threatened, that was the part. If the fire started to come down Williams Canyon, that's directly where it would be heading.
As of 12:30, that looked to be where we would go through the rest of the night. We had done the pre-evacuation order, so essentially everybody was ready if we needed to evacuate, but at that point it didn't seem like we were going to have to. Well, by the time I came home, it had all changed.
Fifteen minutes later, I got home and turned on the TV, and I'm seeing mandatory evacuations for Manitou. But what had happened in that time — the fire had indeed come down a ridge by Williams Canyon and then started heading down Williams Canyon.
So we had three trigger points that we had established for evacuations: one, if it crossed Highway 24 to the west of us; two, if it started coming down Williams Canyon; and three, if it entered Cedar Heights, and started coming down in that direction.
Indy: How was it decided when we could come back?
Snyder: Again, we had a press conference at 4 p.m. [Sunday], which I participated in over at the command center at Coronado [High School] with the media. At that time, we had to announce, "We're not letting anyone back in at this time."
But by the time I got back to City Hall, Chief Buckmiller informed me that it looked like we were out of the danger zone. The fire was moving away from us.
But we also established the same trigger points, so should those occur, we would have to re-evacuate. But as the chief assessed the threat, he really felt that the chance of any re-evacuation, or the fire coming our way again, was very remote at that point.
And that he felt, you know, it was very safe to bring folks back, under the proviso that should things change we might be knocking on your door in the middle of the night again and telling you, "You gotta leave."
Indy: So people need to know they could have to leave again if any of those trigger points are met again, right?
Snyder: Yes. ... Know where all your stuff is and have a plan because it's not just this fire, but we are still under such extreme fire danger. God forbid, but another little thing could break out and we'd be right back facing what we faced this weekend.