DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – Ten years ago the Hayman Fire burned so hot that restoring what was lost could take Mother Nature hundreds of years. Teams of volunteers are hoping to speed up the process.
The future of the forest is in the hands of young volunteers like Zoe Bibb, a fourth grader from Wilder Elementary.
“I would like to make a difference,” said Zoe when asked why she was volunteering to replant the Hayman Burn area.
The Hayman Fire burned more than 138,000 acres and burned across four different counties. It caused nearly $40 million in firefighting costs, burned 133 homes and forced the evacuation of 5,340 people.
PHOTO GALLERY: Hayman Fire
Zoe and her father Robert Bibb recently donated their Saturday with dozens of other volunteers to help repair the damage from what remains the biggest wildfire in Colorado history.
“The Hayman Fire puts a lot of sediment in our water and causes a lot of problems,” said Bibb.
Denver Water has spent tens of millions of dollars dredging and protecting its reservoirs from fire debris flushed into the system by heavy rainstorms.
In July 2006 several homes were wrecked and sections of highway destroyed when a flash flood in the burn area ravaged an area of West Creek.
The volunteer planting is organized by the Coalition for the Upper South Platte. Their effort is aimed at rehabilitating the fire damaged watershed.
Small trees are planted to stabilize charred slopes.
“We just have to give nature a little jumpstart,” said Coalition spokesman Jeff Tienken.
Without help, the forest would need hundreds of years to heal. Planting pine seedlings can speed up the process dramatically.
“As they get bigger the root structures get bigger and it is the root systems of the trees and grasses and shrubs that bind the soil together,” said Tienken.
This rehab project is designed to build on earlier work.
“Last fall heavy equipment was brought in, ponds were created all in an effort to control erosion for the next flash flood,” said Tienken.
Another way to anchor charred hillsides involves planting willows. Some of the hard-working volunteers are Boy Scouts.
“A friend of ours is completing his Eagle project and we’re here to help him out and do whatever we can,” said James Matsey with Boy Scout Troop 873.
Other volunteers are members of Trout Unlimited. As fishermen they have a vested interest in repairing what continues to cause damage downstream on the South Platte River, which is considered a gold medal trout stream.
“All of us were affected by the Hayman Fire and we’re doing this to restore the fishery,” said Jim Klug, a Trout Unlimited member.
Volunteer efforts have been increasing as the 10th anniversary of the Hayman Fire has been approaching. The fire started on Jun 8, 2002.
“We are finally not doing the band-aid fixes. We are actually doing things that are going to make huge differences,” said Coalition member Mark Herndon.