DENVER (AP) – The Waldo Canyon Fire near Colorado Springs left severely burned terrain across more than 5 square miles, with no living vegetation on the surface and no roots for as much as 4 inches below the surface, wildfire experts said Wednesday.
Soil classified as severely burned is so barren that it is often likened to a moonscape, said Dana Butler, a U.S. Forest Service hydrologist who served on a federal emergency response team that reviewed damage from the fire.
The fire started June 23 and burned nearly 29 square miles, killed two people and destroyed nearly 350 homes. The cause is still under investigation. The fire was fully contained on July 10.
Measured by property damage, it was the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history.
The response team made recommendations for deterring erosion and encouraging regrowth in the area, including spraying mulch from helicopters, stabilizing some roads and trails, and temporarily closing others. Details weren’t made public.
The specific proposals won’t be released until approved by up to three levels of U.S. Forest Service supervisors, officials said. Most of the fire was on the Pike National Forest.
Butler said the mitigation work recommended by the response team would take weeks rather than months.
However, longer-term restoration work can take years. Such work is still under way after the 2002 Hayman Fire, which burned about 215 square miles, making it the state’s largest in land area.
Lengthy restoration work was needed after the Hayman Fire because it burned valleys where streams and rivers supply Denver Water, the state’s largest water utility serving an estimated 1.3 million people.
A summary released by the response team on Tuesday said soil on 5.4 square miles of the area blackened by the Waldo Canyon Fire had high-severity burns, 11.4 square miles had moderate-severity burns and 11.8 square miles had low-severity burns or soil that was unburned.
A map shows the high-severity burns are concentrated in about eight areas throughout the fire zone. Butler said that amount of area is not unusual for a fire the size of Waldo Canyon.
– By Dan Elliott, AP Writer
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