|Now that the BAER (Burn Area Emergency Response) report has been released by the United States Forest Service (USFS), San Carlos Ranger District, assessing the Junkins fire post-burn and values-at-risk ahead, local authorities are hard at work in planning both restoration and flood resistance in the area.
Cindy Howard, Custer County Office of Emergency Management director, has toured the area extensively and has recently met with the agency representatives pulling together preparations for addressing the post-fire needs in the 18,403 acre site in the eastern part of the county. “We’re all collaborating on the unmet needs” in the area, Howard says, particularly anticipating the necessity for providing structure and infrastructure protection in Greenwood and Wetmore as spring run-off approaches the creek beds, gullies, and random tracks across the burned area.
The recovery team players Howard met with earlier this week included Ruth Roper, Wetmore Fire Department; Jason Moore, Kat Herrera, and Theresa Springer from the control criteria interests of the Coalition for the Upper South Platte (CUSP); Beth Fortman and Rick Romano of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and US Geological Survey (USGS); Steve Sanchez, United States Forest Service (USFS); and Kate Spinelli, San Isabel Land Protection Trust. Also party to the planning and implementation of restoration and anticipated flooding response, but unable to attend, is Paul Sage, the County Coordinator of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster.
Even listing the team members gives some idea of the scope of issues, interests and funding sources requiring coordination in the massive cleanup and flood anticipation efforts. But the juggling aside, it is clear what the immediate foci are in the county. “There are cascading effects there,” Howard points out, “both from previous fires and existing debris.” Immediate planning related to values at risk in the burned area is centered on clean up in the Hardscrabble Creek beds and tributaries: trash and debris removal, felling water course obstruction trees, and retaining willows for bank protection. Howard is also hoping that an Emergency Watershed Protection grant will be awarded allowing for the acquisition of rain and stream flow gauges in the area. Both of these efforts are aimed at mitigating what is expected to be a critical run-off as the increasing snow cover eventually melts in the bared ground of the fire area.
Not only private property, residents, and domesticated animals can be threatened in the spring, but public infrastructure as well: roads, culverts, and bridges.
The recovery team therefore, will be holding public meetings in March, soliciting volunteer help in the cleanup efforts, and generally reaching out to alert and involve the public in preparing for the realities and physicality of the post-burn dynamics.
There are other team players off stage, so to speak. The US Army Corps of Engineers is engaged in studying the area as well, attempting to see if any future modeling can be projected from the uniqueness of the Junkins fire. The county commissioners and sheriff’s office are of course engaged in following and shaping all the activities. Even the Pueblo National Weather Service is consulted for anticipating spring rain and snow melt data. Fremont and Pueblo county officials are in the loop as well.
In any event, the massive fire has required massive responses, and even though the fire is long gone, the long range effects are just now looming in importance to resident, public land and private property safety. From threatened wells and septic systems to endangered roadways and culverts, the county’s participation in the recovery efforts is poised not only to clean up, but to protect as much as possible from ensuing water damage. “The IAP (Incident Action Plan) is underway,” Howard notes, “and we’ll be on top of everything we can—populations at risk, for example, with medical issues, or living above the flood threatened area but at risk of being cut off by flood debris, and so on.”
Watch for upcoming public meeting notices, further news of planning development, and ways in which the public can be engaged in these efforts.
– W.A. Ewing