Public Safety & Homeland Security

Colorado Wildfire Update: Post-Fire Flooding Big Concern After Blazes Decimated Vegetation

As the majority of Colorado wildfires approach 100 percent containment, Forest Service teams are beginning to visit burn areas on U.S. Forest Service lands to assess their vulnerability to flooding, landslides and other fire-related catastrophes.

by Kirk Mitchell, The Denver Post / July 17, 2018
Dead trees add to fuel that helps forest fires burn. Shutterstock

(TNS) — As the majority of Colorado wildfires approach 100 percent containment, Forest Service teams are beginning to visit burn areas on U.S. Forest Service lands to assess their vulnerability to flooding, landslides and other fire-related catastrophes.

Nine of the 12 wildfires still plotted on the U.S. Forest Service fire map are at 90 percent containment or higher, including the largest wildfire in 2018, the Spring Creek fire in south-central Colorado.

The aftermath of the wildfires will pose hazards for years to come because hills and mountain sides are stripped of vegetation, according to Forest Service officials. Fire can destroy roads and homes while leaving communities downstream of burn areas at risk of flooding and rock slides, according to Forest Service officials.

The U.S. Forest Service has assembled a team of hydrologists, soil scientists, road engineers, wildlife specialists and fisheries biologists to assess damage caused by wildfires to make recommendations for emergency mitigation work to protect human life as well as cultural and natural resources.

"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," according to a Forest Service report. "Flash flooding may occur quickly during heavy rain."

Here's a wrap-up of the largest wildfires in Colorado:

SPRING CREEK FIRE


A flash flood warning is in effect through 6 p.m. today.

Rain has dramatically reduced the activity of the 108,045-acre wildfire five miles northeast of Fort Garland. It is now 91 percent contained.

The number of firefighters still tasked to the fire has fallen to 594 and most of them are stationed in a steep wilderness area on the northwest corner of the fire.

The Spring Creek fire is the third largest in state history.

416 FIRE

Steady rains have taken the punch out of the wildfire that started 13 miles north of Durango on June 1.

In early June, more than 1,000 firefighters were tasked to the fire. Now only 21 people are assigned to the wildfire, mostly to repair fire lines when needed.

The fire is 50 percent contained. The wildfire is burning in wilderness in the San Juan National Forest where containment is not a goal.

All the areas along the eastern flank and southern end of the fire are completely contained.

LAKE CHRISTINE

The 6,822-acre wildfire, which started July 3 about a mile from Basalt, is 59 percent contained.

"We got some sprinkles last night and that helped out. We don't want too much rain or that could cause flooding," fire spokeswoman Jennifer Costich said Monday.

Fire crews are picking their battles in heavily forested areas to avoid risk to firefighters. Some areas in the more active northwest corner of the wildfire only have one entry and exit road, which is dangerous for fire crews, she said.

"It may take a long time to get there because of the safety issue," Costich said.

Firefighters are attacking scree areas, where rock slides limit vegetation, to build fire lines, she said. Helicopters are dropping water and retardant on hot spots once they begin to smolder.

Two people are accused of igniting the wildfire while firing tracer bullets at a shooting range near Lake Christine, according to the district attorney's office. The 2,100 people who were evacuated have since been allowed to return home. The fire destroyed three homes.

WESTON PASS FIRE

Isolated rain is expected Monday morning beginning at around 6 a.m. Increasing rain showers and thunderstorms are expected between noon and 8 p.m.

Containment on the 13,023-acre wildfire located nine miles southwest of Fairplay has ballooned to 93 percent.

The remaining 272 firefighters still tasked to the blaze are mostly building fire lines and putting out hot spots.

___

(c)2018 The Denver Post

Visit The Denver Post at www.denverpost.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.