A recent onslaught of what were once typical July showers has slowed many of the wildfires scattered throughout the state. The presence of rain was a big deal in Costilla and Huerfano counties where the Spring Creek fire has consumed just over 108,000 acres to become the third-largest wildfire in state history.
Though the fires is now 91 percent contained, it will take years of costly redevelopment for the area to begin to look like itself again and in many cases, it will never be the same.
“You can still drive through areas outside of Woodland Park where Hayman was and still see the remnants of that blaze,” said former Woodland Park resident Frank Minter, who lived in the area during Colorado’s largest wildfire, the Hayman fire, which consumed 137,760 destroyed 133 homes and 600 total structures and took the lives of five firefighters. “I think it’s like any natural disaster really - hurricanes, floods, earthquakes - the areas that they affect are never going to be the same, again.”
One area that will likely be vastly different for an extended period of time is Forbes Park, a residential area affected greatly by the Spring Creek fire. Having taken 251 homes - many of which were located in Forbes Park - the Spring Creek fire, has left the area prone to another natural disaster, flash floods.
Over the weekend a flash flood warning was in effect for most of the Spring Creek fire area and though no devastation occurred with this round of rain, another round could be costly.
“A lot of people forget that we were in severe drought conditions before the 2013 floods hit,” said Margaret Anderson, a Lyons resident who remembers the 2013 Colorado floods that caused an estimated $1 billion in damages, took eight lives and hampered the Front Range for the month of September and well into 2014. “It wasn’t just that we had the mass amounts of rainfall, but that the ground was so fertile, it couldn’t absorb anything.”
Though no extended forecast is calling for the monsoon-like conditions that hit the state in September 2013, fire officials warn that even normal thunderstorms can cause severe damage in a post-wildfire landscape.
“Everyone near and downstream from the burned areas should remain alert and stay updated on weather conditions that may result in heavy rains over the burn scars,” stated a U.S. Forest Service report. “Flash flooding may occur quickly during heavy rain.”
The report added that it is not just in the immediate aftermath of a wildfire that affected residents need to remain vigilant as wildfires of the magnitude of the Spring Creek fire can pose hazards for years to come due to hills and mountain sides stripped of vegetation, which can lead to flooding and rock slides.
In an effort to prevent those disaster from taking place, the U.S. Forest Service has deployed a team of hydrologists, soil scientists, road engineers, wildlife specialists and fisheries biologists to assess the damage of the multiple wildfires throughout the state that are now approaching full containment. Through their assessments they will make recommendations for emergency mitigation work to protect human life, cultural resources and natural resources.
The 416 fire is another southern Colorado fire that was aided by seasonal rains. One of the state’s longest-running fires this year, the 416 fire - which began on June 1 - is now 50 percent contained. All structures are protected as the eastern and southern ends of the fire are fully contained, but the fire continues to burn in wilderness of the San Juan National Forest, where officials report that containment is not a goal.