LARIMER COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — The persisting problems left by Colorado’s worst wildfire season in history were brought to light this week, after flooding devastated Poudre Canyon. Experts say the issues are likely far from over.
“The fire was over 200,000 acres — the largest in Colorado history. It’s going to take a long time,” said Reghan Cloudman, Public Affairs Specialist with the U.S. Forest Service.
Flash floods along the Cameron Peak burn scar destroyed homes and hurt the water quality of the river this week. Jason Clay with Colorado Parks and Wildlife says it will take a while before they know the full environmental impact.
“We’ve documented that fish died from Tuesday’s event. We won’t really know the full severity and impact to the fish population until fall when we do standardized sampling,” said Clay.
More flash flooding is possible in the burn area. The greatest areas of concern are the spots that saw the worst burn severity. Experts say the soil is so damaged it no longer absorbs water and vegetation won’t grow. Those things combined allow runoff to move rapidly, picking up large debris that becomes potentially deadly.
“Just removing vegetation makes any hill slope more susceptible to debris flows of some kind. Water runs off faster, it’s going to find the lowest place and once it finds the lowest place, it’s going to start channeling a little bit,” said Dr. Barb Echohawk, Professor of Geology at Metropolitan State University in Denver.
The U.S. Forest Service and other agencies are focused on mitigating the risk as much as possible.
“We can’t stop flash floods from happening but we do look at erosion in areas we want to address that. We’re doing things like removing bridges in areas we think might wash away so that debris wouldn’t end up downstream,” said Cloudman.
Groups like the Poudre Wilderness Volunteers have also worked diligently to remove downed trees and improve drainage. Mike Corbin, chair of the group’s restoration committee, says he expects erosion and flooding impacts will continue for some time.
“It’s really flooding that does the real damage. We will be working it for many years, maybe the next ten years at least as things get damaged,” said Corbin.