Experts, community prepare for flooding risks

With spring here and the forest beginning to regenerate after last fall’s Junkins Fire, our local community is getting ready for what comes next.

Wildfire, especially in steep, mountainous areas, often results in flooding, sometimes severe and dangerous.

State, federal and private organizations are working together to assess damage and prioritize flood mitigation projects based on the anticipated risks to life, safety, water quality and public infrastructure, such as roads, culverts and bridges.

Although the 18,000-acre Junkins Fire directly affected relatively few landowners, the entire Wetmore and Beulah area faces increased flooding risk due to the fire, an impact that could last more than a decade.

Wildfire is an essential process in our landscape, removing excess debris, adding nutrients to the soil, cleansing disease and pests, opening cones, and opening up the forest floor for cover and habitat.

But hillsides stripped of trees and other vegetation can no longer absorb or catch rainfall. Burned, unstable soils slough easily with even modest amounts of precipitation. Burned trees fall and can be swept downhill with water, soil, ash and other materials in flows that pose a serious threat downstream.

Communication, cooperation and awareness are key. Public meetings describing the recovery process and the risks of post-fire flooding were held in Wetmore and Westcliffe earlier this month.

In addition, the federal Army Corps of Engineers recently taught local residents and emergency responders how to create sandbag barriers to protect property.

The Corps also is undertaking a hydrology report to provide more targeted data to support assessing risk and prioritizing recovery work on private land in the burned area.

 San Isabel Land Protection Trust continues to partner with the team of experienced fire recovery and emergency management organizations working on the Junkins Fire. We are helping connect landowners to information and resources they can use to stay safe in the years to come. The team’s work will help the entire community weather the fire-caused risks that lie ahead.

 

Kate Spinelli

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  • “When you sell the water, you ruin the land.”

    – John Brandenburg, Brandburg Centennial Ranch