The first report from the Burn Area Emergency Response team on the High Park fire released July 19, shows that while the fire perimeter covered 87,242 acres, more than 14,000 acres within that area remain unburned.
Of the acres burned on land owned by both public entities and private landowners, 32,302 experienced low soil burn severity and 35,399 moderate severity. Only 5,714 burned at a high severity, which puts them at the highest risk for erosion and soil runoff. Colorado Highway 14 has already been closed twice this month as a result of mudslides caused by heavy rains over the burn area. The Colorado Department of Transportation is planning potential rock scaling operations — taking down already loose rocks — to help prevent more rockslides onto Highway 14.
Aerial mulching is planned for 5,604 acres on National Forest system land, with no treatments proposed in the Cache la Poudre Wilderness, according to the report. Possible treatments for private lands include aerial mulching and seeding of an additional 5,657 acres. Most of the land would be mulched with weed-free agricultural straw, but some could use wood shreds or wood straw.
Aerial mulching to reduce erosion is planned or proposed for areas in high and moderate soil burn severity and on slopes between 20 percent and 60 percent.
Priority is also given to strategically located areas where life, safety, or property is at risk or where there is high risk to the public water supply. Straw has already been dropped around Milton Seaman Reservoir, which supplies drinking water to the City of Greeley. Both Greeley and Fort Collins have been drawing water from Horsetooth Reservoir rather than the Cache la Poudre River.
In total, the BAER assessment identified approximately $24 million in potential emergency stabilization treatments to address the impacts of the High Park Fire, roughly $17 million for public roads and private lands. Approximately $9.9 million of these treatments may be eligible for 75 percent federal funding, but the money currently available for Colorado falls far short of this amount.
The cost for private landowners would be around $9.3 million. No source for these local funds has been identified yet.
More detail on the areas of greatest soil burn severity is contained in the final BAER report.