Recovery will likely take years after Colorado’s record-breaking wildfires

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GRAND COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — The largest wildfires in Colorado state history will likely take years to recover from, according to officials with the U.S. Forest Service and Cameron Peak Fire.

The East Troublesome and Cameron Peak fires burned roughly 400,000 acres combined. Many people have been allowed to return to their homes but for others there’s nothing to go back to.

“I think we’re still on edge and I think we’re still dealing with a ton of trauma — both kids and adults,” said CarrieAnn Mathis, a resident of Grand County.

Mathis documented the moment the East Troublesome Fire forced her out of her community and has continued to share videos on social media of the recovery process in some of the hardest hit parts of the county. 

“We didn’t even know there was a house there — it was just a car that was parked and we saw couples embracing each other just looking at their home. We saw people with shovels trying to dig through debris to see if they had anything left, if there was any memory of their house,” said Mathis.

Mathis says it’s difficult to image certain areas will ever return to their former beauty. The recovery process is moving forward in both fire areas. Cameron Peak and East Troublesome are past the first phase of recovery, fire suppression repair, and have moved on to phase two, which involves bringing in a burned area emergency response team to evaluate the damage to the soil, trees and overall landscape.

“The landscape has been hurt. It’s been changed. They’re going to do a prescription to try to see if we need to seed right away, if we need to try to drop bales of chopped up straw on a landscape to slow down the snowmelt or the possibility of a flood event,” said Kale Casey, a public information officer with the Cameron Peak Fire.

Casey says that’s typically an urgent process. However, with fires burning so late into the season, many areas are covered in snow, making it more difficult.

The third phase of recovery is long-term recovery and restoration, which uses non-emergency resources to improve damaged areas that are not likely to recover naturally. Casey says that typically focuses on areas like infrastructure, and can take years to complete.

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