BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – Nearly a year after the Calwood Fire burned more than 10,000 acres, charring many homes, Boulder County is working to preserve what remains of the landscape. Scorched trees are now being cut down, chipped and dispersed through what used to be the forest as mulch.
“These large massive fires aren’t leaving any trees behind. I think it is going to be a while before we see some regeneration here, if we do at all,” said David Hirt, Senior Plant Ecologist for Boulder County Parks and Open Spaces.
Much of the terrain impacted by the Calwood Fire is still inaccessible to the general public. Hirt took CBS4’s Dillon Thomas up to the heart of the burn scar, near Heil Valley Ranch, to see how crews were taking to the sky to work the land below.
Multiple helicopters have flown the area recently. The helicopters pick up dead trees weighing hundreds of pounds, and fly them to a large pile. From there, the pile of trees are chipped into mulch. Helicopters then rotate, picking up large nets of mulch, and flying the chips back to where the trees once stood. The mulch is then dropped from the sky.
“That wood mulch is replacing the ground cover we lost during the fire. Whether that’s the grasses or the pine needles, we lost all that in this fire,” Hirt said.
Doing so helps prevent landslides and flooding, and slows sediment from entering the South St. Vrain and Left Hand Creek, which provide drinking water to the front range.
Hirt shared video with CBS4 showing how sediment easily made its way in to the water without mitigation efforts in effect.
“It turned those waters pretty black with the ash,” Hirt said.
The Boulder County crews are focusing on a 1,800 acre area for their current work. Clearing the landscape and mulching the terrain could take more than 10 weeks. Hirt said that is because the fire burned nearly all of the trees, ridding of any ability for seeds to replant the forest.
“For the most part this fire consumed all the trees,” Hirt said. “We may see this look more like a grassland (from now on.) It’s going to be a changed landscape for quite some time.”
Hirt said getting ahead of the recovery process was important for the health of the environment. He expected work to be completed by the end of July.
“There’s so much benefit to getting ahead of these fires and clearing out some of the dense trees we have all up and down the front range,” Hirt said.