by Eric Mullens
HUERFANO — Local, state and federal officials along with property owners and ranchers in Huerfano County have kept efforts to mitigate future natural disasters in the East Peak Fire area alive, in discussions and physical efforts ongoing since July.
On August 28, a meeting was held bringing many representatives together to talk about flood mitigation and reclamation efforts in the burn area. With recent devastating floods in northern Colorado, and a summer plagued by huge wildfires, federal, local and state funds are hard to come by.
Many residents and property owners in the East Peak fire area are turning to private contractors and consultants to address potential flooding and other hazards with the loss of trees and scorched soil from the June conflagration.
Tony Arnold, District Conservationist at the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service said the issue of changes to the land has been a topic since the first disaster assessment was made in July. The areas below and around the burn scar have already been impacted by rains.
Doug Bressan, who has been associated with the boy scout ranch for over three decades, and whose family has called the East Peak region home since the 1880s, told the Huerfano World Journal there have been ten rain events, two of them fairly major, in the area since the fire.
He said private contractors and Huerfano County Road and Bridge crews have continued to work in the burn area in mitigation efforts to prevent downstream flooding and erosion. But both Bressan and Arnold admit, these will be long-term efforts.
Officials will also have to compete with other areas of Colorado seeking mitigation and recovery funds.
“Every time we get a rain there is going to be some flooding in the scout ranch and other areas as things are now,” said Arnold. “This is not a short term problem, but probably one we’ll face for, maybe, the next four years.”
Bressan agrees. He said some private terracing efforts are ongoing to lessen runoff issues, but he knows buildings at the scout ranch have already been damaged by flooding. He said the old ‘bunkhouse,’ a girls’ cabin building has been removed due to recent flood damage and other structures have also suffered flood damage, but have undergone cleaning. Bressan said Bear Creek itself is much deeper than before the fire in many areas due to runoff from high country rain storms.
While water shed drainage might not directly effect Walsenburg residents in the event of a large rain in the fire region, runoff could cause agricultural flooding to the east and south of the city.
Other areas of the Spanish Peaks region will have to strongly consider fire mitigation efforts, as destructive insects like spruce bark worms are beginning to appear, noted Bressan.
While there sadly was loss of properties in the East Peak fire, and disruption of residents’ lives, there was an upside. Arnold said records indicate the East Peak fire was the first major fire in that area since 1906, and fire is a natural way for forest land to rebirth. He and Bressan say fires spread seeds, aiding in forest regrowth.
Recent reports from area property owners show there is already some dramatic new grass growth in the area.
Seeking funding and continuing to work on fire, flood and even possible increased avalanche danger mitigation will remain a priority for local government officials.
The board of county commissioners and county administration have attended all of the topical meetings on the subject and continue to work with state and federal land officials.