Colorado is currently host to at least six fires, most of them wildfires, a couple suspected arson. As of today, some major damage was done by the Black Forest fire. Last year, the Waldo Canyon fire, also in the black forest area, became Colorado’s most damaging fire, obliterating 347 homes. This year’s Black Forest fire has now become the most damaging, obliterating at least 360 homes, with another 14 partially damaged, and 79 presumed damaged or lost but their status is currently unknown. The fire has burned nearly 16,000 acres so far, and areas on fire span the vast majority of Black Forest. Two people have died…they were in the process of evacuating, and apparently ended up surrounded unable to escape. The fire is only 5% contained (less than 800 acres!)
In addition to the Black Forest fire, the Royal Gorge fire has grown to about 4000 acres. It destroyed over 20 structures at the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park. The bridge itself is still in tact, however 33 out of 1292 of the planks have burned. The tram that spans the canyon, as well as its utility structures, have burned. Apparently the cable dropped into the canyon. The entire tourist attraction and all of the tourism businesses related to the park and bridge (such as rafting, helicopter rides, etc.) are currently shut down.
The repercussions are farther reaching than just burnt land and homes…millions of gallons of water in a state that is increasingly water-strapped are being vaporized and drifting away (and presumably out of the state) with the smoke as well…a fact I am not sure many people have thought of. I wonder, buy the time the fires in Colorado are finally put out, how the state of our water reserves will be. I spend a lot of my time at Cherry Creek and Chatfield state parks. Both are critical water reserves, not to mention nature reserves dependent upon water. Our aquifers are already overtapped.
Last year after summer the water levels in Cherry Creek must have dropped by around five feet, and at least that much at Chatfield. New mud flats and sandy beaches now span all sides of Cherry Creek, where there were none at all in years past. (Ironically, this was a real boon for bird watchers and photographyers…we had more species variety and volume this year than any of the years I’ve been visiting Cherry Creek.) Since the last rain storms at the end of May this year, where water levels at Cherry Creek appeared to be rising again, water levels are now down at least a foot and a half to two feet…and even more new shoreline has been added to that which appeared last year.
When I first moved to this area about six years ago, the water levels in Cherry Creek were always right up to the embankment, and often high enough that water would overflow the embankment and spread out into the trees and grasslands forming grassy marshes in spring and fall. It is astonishing to see how rapidly the water levels in our reservoirs drops during the mere three months of summer, and how they do not appear to recover during spring, fall, and winter…. I wonder the impact…not only on human activity, but on all the wildlife and birds, and the ecosystems that support them.
Very sad. Not only the loss of property, lifetimes of memories, and even lives…but that the Colorado Forest Services cannot seem to manage deadfall, the raw, extremely dry fuel that enables these fires. I’ve noticed, when I have visited some other states that have had fire problems and horrible fires in years, decades, and centuries past, have rich forest management programs. Instead of just letting fuel lie where it fell, in populated regions where property is at risk, that deadfall is gathered, collected, and eventually eliminated. Well-known fire jump spots are managed by clearing some forest near the sides of the road to minimize the chances of a jump. Here in Colorado? We do none of that…we let fuel lie where it falls, let it pile up…and watch hundreds of millions of dollars of homes burn year after year. Something really needs to be done about that…it is no longer reasonable to simply claim that deadfall and dry grass are “natural”…we need to protect people’s property from this kind of reckless devastation that probably shouldn’t be occurring (or at least need not occur in this frequency and to this degree) in the first place. It’s no longer just raw, untouched nature where these fires burn (sad as that may be in some respects) and we can’t continue try to behave as if it is. The cost is far too great.
My prayers go out to everyone in Black Forest who has lost their homes, belongings, their pets, lifetimes of photos of weddings and family, all the cute little drawings, sculptures and crafts of their children, and even their lives.