Rising from the ashes

Horses greet firefighters in a burned meadow in Glacier View Meadows.

As the July issue of the North Forty News is going to press with comprehensive coverage of the High Park Fire, two new wildfires break out in Colorado: the Woodland Heights Fire near Estes Park and the Waldo Canyon Fire near Colorado Springs. Aircraft fighting High Park are dispatched to Woodland Heights, which is fully contained at 27.5 acres by Sunday evening — but not before burning down 22 homes and two outbuildings.

Colorado Springs is not so lucky. The Waldo Canyon Fire sweeps through upscale residential neighborhoods and singes a portion of the Air Force Academy on its way to becoming the most destructive fire in state history, taking 346 homes and two lives.

Meanwhile, the High Park Fire continues to rage in the canyons northwest of Fort Collins, and 2,000 firefighters and two dozen aircraft are finally making headway on containment.

June 24 – The Fort Collins area feels rain for the first time in three weeks, but little reaches the burn area, which receives wind and lightning. Temperatures hit triple digits.

June 25 – Firefighters from the US Forest Service, National Guard, Loveland Fire Authority, Colorado Springs, Canon City and Upper Pine fire departments, and Nesbitt, Arizona, Engine Co., are protecting the area around the Mishawaka Amphitheatre on the Poudre River near mile marker 108. The interagency team leaves a note for the owners that ends, “Long Live The Mish.”

June 26 – Poudre Valley REA crews repair damaged transmission lines to the emergency communications array on Buckhorn Mountain.

June 27 – Containment reaches 75 percent. Fire officials move up the estimated date of total containment to June 30, from July 15.

A house across from Picnic Rock in Poudre Canyon was destroyed by the High Park Fire.

June 30 – Incident commanders report the number of homes burned at 259; 112 additional structures have been lost.

July 1 – High Park Fire declared 100 percent contained. Although a fire line has been completed around the perimeter, fuel continues to burn and total control is not expected for weeks, maybe months. The burn area covers 87, 284 acres or about 136.5 square miles, slightly larger than Las Vegas.

July 2 – A small trailer fire at the Columbine Lodge unrelated to the High Park Fire but in the heart of an unburned area is quickly spotted by forest rangers and extinguished by Poudre Canyon volunteers.

July 4 – At just about the last minute, the Town of Wellington joins Red Feather Lakes and the City of Fort Collins and scrubs its planned Independence Day fireworks display. Loveland is the only city to hold public pyrotechnics. The Larimer County ban on the private use of fireworks results in 27 sheriff’s calls with two citations issued. The Mishawaka re-opens for lunch.

Ashley Mathews gets a kiss from son, Kanyon, 7, while tubing at the Picnic Rock recreation area on July 7. Normally crystal clear, runoff from High Park burn
areas turned the Cache la Poudre River charcoal gray.

July 6 – Heavy rains over the burn area trigger mudslides in Poudre Canyon. A privately owned cabin on forest service land is swept away by the swiftly moving debris that also closes Colorado Highway 14 from Ted’s Place to Stove Prairie Road. The sheriff issues 227 pre-evacuation notices to residents from Mishawaka to Gateway Park, since flash flooding could continue until Monday. The county closes the Disaster Recovery Center on the CSU campus.

July 7 – Poudre Canyon Volunteer Fire Department invites Poudre Park residents to fill as many sandbags as they need from a dumptruck load of sand to protect their properties from anticipated runoff.

July 9 – At a public meeting for fire survivors, Rist Canyon residents complain about the lack of sandbags available from the county. They also ask Larimer County officials to limit the amount of non-resident traffic in the area, especially bicycles.

July 10 – The City of Greeley begins dropping seed and straw from helicopters to help slow the flow of ash and debris into the Poudre River and the Milton Seaman Reservoir.

July 11 – Power returns to homes in Glacier View.

July 13 – The Mishawaka Amphitheatre presents its first concert since the High Park Fire started on June 9. Keller Williams donates $1 from every ticket sold to firefighters and relief organizations.

July 16 – More rains bring more mudslides to Poudre Canyon, closing Colorado Highway 14. The Colorado Department of Transportation begins clearing an estimate 200 tons of debris — rocks, fallen trees and muck — from areas near Stove Prairie Road.

July 17 – Larimer County Assessor’s Office releases a searchable database of residences confirmed lost in the fire. The assessed value of the destroyed homes is $38.5 million. Insurers anticipate claims nearing $100 million.

July 18 – Although they cannot close the road now that the emergency is over, county officials agree to post a sign at the mouth of Rist Canyon asking non-residents to avoid the area during the cleanup period.

July 19 – The Burned Area Emergency Response assessment for the High Park Fire reveals 14,000 acres within the perimeter remain unburned, and only 16 percent of the burn was at high severity, sterilizing the soil and interfering with water absorption. The interagency report estimates the cost of mitigation could run as high as $24 million; $9.9 million would be eligible for a 75 percent federal match, but the funds available “falls far short” of that, according to the report.

Rafters navigate black water caused by High Park Fire ash runoff.

July 20 — Larimer County updates its website at www.larimer.com with information geared to recovery.

July 23 – PVREA says power has been returned to all standing homes except for two in Fall Creek and 14 in Whale Rock. Crews will continue to take down unstable trees so they don’t fall on power lines; managers expect to have all power back on within two weeks.

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