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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 29, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 26
Fighting the flames: Gay military personnel lend a hand as wildfire threatens USAF Academy
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Fighting the flames: Gay military personnel lend a hand as wildfire threatens USAF Academy

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

Firefighters continue to struggle against a wildfire at the edge of Colorado Springs, Colorado, that has forced at least 35,000 people from their homes and prompted a partial evacuation of the U.S. Air Force Academy.

As of late Thursday, the Waldo Canyon Fire has burned close to 20,000 acres and destroyed hundreds of houses and other structures. The fire grabbed media attention due its close proximity to the Air Force Academy and the famed mountaintop of Pikes Peak.

On Tuesday, Colorado Springs Fire Chief Rich Brown called the firestorm that hit his city a 'monster' and said at that point the flames were 'not even remotely close to being contained.'

Cooler temperatures and lighter winds on Thursday helped firefighters make progress, officials said.

Andy Blevins, a member of the OutServe Colorado Chapter, reports that once the group's members and leadership heard about the situation, they sprang into action to lend a hand wherever needed. Others, he said, offered a place for the volunteers to sleep and a hot meal.

'The majority of our members in the Colorado Chapter live in Colorado Springs,' Blevins said. 'Several of our members came together and offered to help with the evacuation process.'

OutServe is a group of over 5,000 actively serving Gay and Lesbian service members in the U.S. military.

Blevins described the actions of his fellow Colorado Chapter members as 'inspiring' and said, 'It really brought to the forefront a sense of camaraderie and unity that OutServe leadership has sought to provide for LGB members in the military.'

According to Blevins, the actions of the OutServe chapter inspired their family and friends to help - as well as complete strangers.

'It is truly awe-inspiring to be a part of an organization that does more than provide networking opportunities,' he said. 'It provides a family.'

Officials are assessing damage after wind-driven flames swept over containment lines into Colorado Springs, burning down homes on its outskirts as authorities hurried to evacuate residents.

'This area that we're in is extremely dense,' Colorado Springs Fire Department spokeswoman Sunny Smaldino told CNN on Wednesday. 'It's one of our worst scenarios in our city to have that many homes affected.'

A spot fire touched a vacant southwest corner of the grounds of the Air Force Academy, which continues to operate, fire officials said.

Even as smoke from the raging wildfires rose in the foothills around them, 1,045 new cadets arrived at the academy today to begin their basic training.

When the Waldo Canyon Fire began to threaten the academy, more than 2,100 families were quickly evacuated from residential areas of the academy and still have not been allowed to return.

Colorado Springs is the state's second-largest metropolitan area, with more than 650,000 residents.

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