By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
In what's now officially been declared a "major federal disaster" and the worst wildfire in Colorado history, the Waldo Canyon fire that started last Saturday and flared through Colorado Springs since Tuesday has now destroyed 346 homes and claimed at least one life. The encroaching flames forced 35,000 people to be evacuated from their homes this week, including the eight MWDs and two handlers -- Whaley and Jensen -- on duty at the USAF Academy kennels.
The fire breached the Academy's grounds on Tuesday, burning "about 10 acres of land along the southwest boundary of the academy's 28-square-mile boundary." When swift winds pushed the fire just two miles south of the kennels, putting them in the line of fire, the call was made to evacuate the dogs. Kennel master Chris Jakubin told me that, "ash was falling" when he got to the kennels on Tuesday and there was "little visibility." The poor air quality was also a big concern and getting the dogs away from the smoke to safe housing became the priority, so the evacuation plan was put into effect and the dogs were brought over to nearby Buckley Air Force Base. Jakubin said Wednesday's evacuation went very smoothly and their friends over at the Buckley kennels lent fast assistance. The transfer took only a few short hours.
I got the chance to spend some time out at the USAF Academy kennels in December where I met MWD Haus -- who's pictured waiting patiently above -- as well as meet some of the handlers and dogs over at Buckley. The Colorado canine community is a tight-knit and uniquely collaborative one and the no-question-about-it support exchanged this week comes as no surprise.
While the wildfire continues to rage and firefighters from all over the country battle to keep the blaze's perimeter in check, yesterday's calm winds seem to have helped steady the situation -- containment is now reportedly at 15 percent. The Academy, which reports today's air quality as "good," will be allowing some evacuees to return back to their base housing later today. Hopefully, MWDs Haus, Boda, Oli, Rruck, Benga, Mack, and the rest of the crew will be settled back home soon. Our war-dog thoughts are in Colorado this week.
Rebecca Frankel, on leave from her FP desk, is currently writing a book about military working dogs, to be published by Free Press.
U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Phillip Houk; Photo courtesy of Chris Jakubin
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.