A county in Colorado where 833 homes burned in a two year period, considers addressing wildfire risk

El Paso County, ColoradoEl Paso County, Colorado is home to the state’s most destructive fires. In 2012, the Waldo Canyon Fire burned more than 18,000 acres, destroyed 347 homes in Colorado Springs and killed two people. Almost exactly a year later, the Black Forest Fire ignited east of the city and burned more than 15,000 acres, 486 homes and killed two people.

Ryan Maye Handy wrote an article in the Colorado Springs Gazette that looks at some of the proposals being considered, and in some cases rejected, that could enhance the area’s ability to live with the inevitable fires still to come. Below is an excerpt.

…While El Paso County has taken some steps to address wildfire risk, land use experts say officials could do much more.

Unlike the city of Colorado Springs, which heavily regulates building in wildfire zones, the county has no universal fire code standard. Instead, it has a patchwork of fire codes and land use regulations that vary between more than 26 fire districts. New subdivisions in wildfire zones must meet special wildfire criteria, but individual homes do not have to be built with fire resistant material or have mitigated properties. County master plans for development, while offering guidelines, are years and in some cases decades out of date and make no mention of wildfire.

Ultimately, economic and logistical concerns have kept the El Paso County commissioners from issuing broad regulations for building in wildfire zones, and the result is that many homeowners and areas remain vulnerable to fire.


While refraining from adopting county-wide fire codes might spare El Paso County residents economic hardship, the decision doesn’t take into account the economic consequences of managing a wildfire, experts say. Wildfires cost money to fight, typically taxpayer money, and the U.S. Forest Service spends a third of its budget defending homes in wildfire zones….

Colorado man’s controlled burn triggers evacuations

A southern Colorado man was cited on Saturday for arson, after a private controlled burn got out of control on the grassy plains east of Colorado Springs.

The small fire prompted evacuations in the communities of Ellicott and Peyton. At first they were mandatory until firefighters started to contain the burn and evacuation orders were relaxed to voluntary.

The fire started around 5:30 p.m. and spread to 150 acres in less than two hours, KOAA news in Colorado Springs reported.  The blaze was quickly contained by 7 p.m., and the homeowner who allegedly started the fire cited with fourth-degree arson, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Colorado Springs is home to the state’s most destructive fires. In 2012, the Waldo Canyon fire burned more than 18,000 acres, destroyed 347 homes in Colorado Springs and killed two people. Almost exactly a year later, the Black Forest fire ignited east of Colorado Springs, and burned more than 15,000 acres, 486 homes and killed two people.

This year, El Paso County in southern Colorado has already had several small grass fires, although Saturday’s fire was the first this year to threaten homes.

Investigation report released for Black Forest Fire

Origin of the Black Forest Fire
Origin of the Black Forest Fire

The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office has released a summary report on the investigation of the Black Forest Fire which started June 11, 2013 near Colorado Springs, Colorado. The fire killed two people and burned 489 houses and 14,280 acres, resulting in $420 million in insured losses.

The investigators eliminated natural causes, such as lightning. That left human-related ignitions.

Below are excerpts from the report:

…Given the known devastation of the fire at that point, an Investigation Team was formed consisting of recognized experts in the area of Wildland fire investigation from agencies including the USDA Forest Service, the Aurora Fire Department, the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATFE), the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office and others. This team was assisted by surveyors from the El Paso County Public Services Department.

The only clearly established fact was that no natural causes existed and thus the fire was human caused. A potential cause associated with the metal particles can not be ruled out, or positively identified. A potential cause associated with an intentional ignition is not supported by the evidence or circumstances, but can not be completely ruled out. The origin of the fire is in an area that is not readily accessible from a roadway, allowing an easy escape, as is typical in intentionally set Wildland fires. There was no evidence of any other miscellaneous cause such as blasting, fireworks, welding, target shooting, etc.

Upon the completion of the investigation, the entire case was reviewed by the Sheriff’s Office Investigations Division and the District Attorney’s Office to determine if any additional leads remained. It was the determination of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office that there was not sufficient evidence to warrant criminal prosecution at this time. None of the investigation or forensic examination supported any one possibility to the extent needed to pursue criminal charges. Additionally, no additional recommended follow-up work could be identified at this time.

Three other reports have previously been released about the Black Forest Fire:

  1. Report on how the fire was managed on the first day, issued by the Black Forest Fire District Board on February 19, 2014. The complete report can no longer be found on the District’s web site.
  2. A 2,000 page, 345 megabyte report, released March 14, 2014, commissioned by the Black Forest Fire District which evaluated how the fire was managed, including the performance of Fire Chief Bob Harvey during the first hours of the fire. Sheriff Terry Maketa had been extremely critical of the Chief in numerous interviews with the media. The complete report can no longer be found on the District’s web site.
  3. After Action Report, by the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, May 15, 2014. We preserved this report on the Wildfire Today web site.


Waldo Canyon Fire, two years later

Waldo Canyon Fire, June 26, 2012
Waldo Canyon Fire, June 26, 2012., Photo by Keystoneridin.

It was two years ago today, on June 23, 2012, that the Waldo Canyon Fire started in the Pike National Forest southwest of Colorado Springs, Colorado. On June 26 it spread into the Mountain Shadows area of the city. Before the fire was out, it had killed two people and burned 18,000 acres and 347 homes.

The Colorado Springs Gazette has an interesting article written by Ryan Maye Handy about the impacts of the fire, the rebuilding efforts, and how it affected the residents. It is very well written and worth your time. There is also a video with the article that covers the devastating floods that came weeks and months after the fire. But the website may make you answer two or more stupid questions before it will let you see it.

Below is a brief excerpt from the article:

…Nevertheless in Colorado and around the country, Mountain Shadows is considered a fire recovery success story. Partially due to its urban setting, a greater percentage of homes – 77 percent – have been rebuilt than in any other fire-ravaged community in the state, including neighborhoods in Boulder and Larimer counties and Black Forest. Nearly all the homes in Mountain Shadows were primary residences, whereas in some Colorado fires a significant percentage of houses lost were vacation homes.

Brett Lacey, the Colorado Springs fire marshal who engineered the new fire codes for the hillside neighborhood, has traveled around North America to talk about Mountain Shadows. The neighborhood’s fire mitigation work has become a model for cities in Montana and Canada.

But Mountain Shadows’ fast recovery also echoes a disturbing trend in the West: Catastrophic wildfires wipe the slate clean, making room for bigger, more expensive dream houses in zones that remain at risk for wildfires.

There was much criticism about how the Waldo Canyon Fire was managed in the city of Colorado Springs. At least three official reports were written, two from the city (here and here) and a third from the county sheriff’s office. However one of the most revealing was the result of an independent investigation by a newspaper, the Colorado Springs Independent which revealed facts that were left out of the government-issued documents. After reading the three official reports and then the Independent’s article, I wrote on December 13, 2012:

I am left stunned. Regarding the management of the fire within the city of Colorado Springs, I have never heard of a wildland fire with such a huge impact that was so utterly, catastrophically mismanaged.

Wildfire briefing, April 24, 2014

Fire in New Jersey

A vegetation fire in New Jersey has burned about 1,500 acres in the Edward G. Bevan Fish and Wildlife Management Area. At least one single engine air tanker and a helicopter have been assisting the firefighters on the ground. 

The Random Ramblings blog has some photos that were taken from an air tanker operated by Downstown Aero. Other photos can be found at ABClocal.

Homes at risk in Colorado Springs

Colorado Springs has released a map showing the areas in the city that are most at risk from wildland fire. A homeowner can use the map to zoom in to see their individual parcel, rated anywhere from low risk to extreme risk.

More cities should provide maps like this.

Wildfire risk, Colorado Springs

In the last two years wildfires in Colorado Springs have killed four residents and burned 833 homes.

One person killed in wildfire in Nepal

One person was killed and 42 homes burned in a wildfire near Illam, Nepal.

From ekantipur.com:

ILLAM, APR 23 – A person died on the spot while two others were injured seriously when a huge stone fell on them from a cliff above as they were extinguishing forest fire in Bhanjo-1 of the district.

In the incident that took place on Wednesday morning, Ram Kumar Rai, 55, of Banjho-1 was killed while Ranjit Rai, 23 and Bhadra Maya Rai, 50 were injured, according to the Area Police Office, Mangalbare.

Meanwhile, fire engulfed 42 houses at Inaruwa VDC of Saptari district this morning. The fire that broke out from a cowshed of Dhaneshwro Mandal spread to 42 houses belonging to 22 households.

Report released for the Black Forest Fire

(Originally published at 3:02 p.m. MDT, March 14, 2014; updates are below))

Today the Board of Directors of the Black Forest Fire/Rescue Protection District released the report of its independent investigation into the performance of Fire Chief Bob Harvey during the first hours of the Black Forest Fire. The investigation was conducted to respond to Sheriff Terry Maketa’s allegations that Chief Harvey had mismanaged command during the first day of the fire. In June of 2013 the fire claimed two lives, 14,000 acres, and nearly 500 homes near Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The report contains more than 2,000 pages and the files are ridiculously huge. It is absurd to think that 345 megabites and 2,000 pages will be downloaded and read by the average citizen. A cynic might think they wanted to reduce its impact by releasing it on a Friday afternoon, and purposefully made the report as user unfriendly as possible in order to deter people from reading it. The Black Forest Fire/Rescue Protection District needs to provide a version of the report that is easily downloaded and read by their taxpayers.

–To download the complete report, including all exhibits and photographs:
Click here to download the complete report in one file. This file measures 345 megabytes.

–To download the report and exhibits separately from the photographs:
Click here to download the report and exhibits only – File #1 of 2. This file measures 109 megabytes.
Click here to download just the photographs – File #2 of 2. This file measures 236 megabytes.

(UPDATE at 3:06 p.m. MDT, March 14, 2014)

The Denver Post read at least some of the report:

On the first night of the Black Forest fire, four firefighters and a piece of key equipment were ordered on a “secret special assignment” to watch and protect the home of an El Paso County Sheriff’s Office commander while other nearby houses burned, according to a report released Friday…

(UPDATE at 5:56 p.m. MDT, March 14, 2014)

We downloaded the report and found some other interesting sections.

A report was filed on a safety issue on the fire, through the SAFENET reporting system. It involves the Type 3 Incident Commander (ICT3) who assumed command of the fire from Fire Chief Harvey. Below is an excerpt from the SAFENET. The ICT3 referred to apparently is the ICT3 from the El Paso County Sheriffs Office.
Continue reading “Report released for the Black Forest Fire”