Losses in #EastTroublesomeFire enormous, still mounting — The Summit Daily #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

East Troublesome Fire. Photo credit: Brad White via The Mountain Town News

From The Sky-Hi News (Amy Golden) via The Summit Daily:

Formal damage assessments for structures in the county have been completed after the East Troublesome Fire scorched through nearly 200,000 acres in northern Grand County. According to those reports, 555 structures were destroyed, nine buildings suffered major damage and 34 sustained minor damage.

Among the buildings destroyed, 366 were residential and 189 were outbuildings. More than 200 were people’s primary residences.

Two surveys went out — one to evacuees and one to homeowners — to begin connecting those in need of a place to stay with those willing to lease out their home. Darland said more than 190 homeowners signed up to offer their houses to the roughly 50 families who responded needing some sort of housing.

However, many of these homes are only available through the spring. Darland and the county are working with community partners like Snow Mountain Ranch and Sun Communities to find a longer-term solution while seeking funding from state and federal sources…

Ten buildings belonging to businesses were also destroyed in the fire.

That includes buildings at C Lazy U Ranch, Winding River Ranch and Highland Marina. Two longtime outfitters in the area — Dave Parri’s Outfitting & Guide Service and Samuelson Outfitters — have also suffered heavy losses.

Three generations of the Samuelson family have operated in the Troublesome Basin for more than half a century. Cathy Samuelson and her husband Richard “Sambo” Samuelson lost most of the 2020 hunting season because of the fire and two of their camps were destroyed. Two employees lost their homes in the fire as well…

East Troublesome Fire and Cameron Peak Fire map via Inciweb December 7, 2020.

Acreage-wise, the fire burned almost 15% of the land in Grand County. With tourism and recreation being Grand’s primary economic driver, the burn scar over public lands — spanning Bureau of Land Management, US Forest Service and Rocky Mountain National Park — could hamper tourism for years to come.

The county said many ranches have reported a significant or total loss of hay intended for winter feeding of livestock. Damages and impacts associated with agricultural land and operations are ongoing.

The burned lands incorporated significant grazing leases held by local producers, and impacts to agriculture irrigation supply and delivery are being assessed…

In a letter to the Colorado Department of Public Safety, the estimated costs of the county’s response has been roughly $352,000 as of Nov. 12. Those expenses include $80,000 for staff, logistics and emergency protective actions in the Office of Emergency Management; $150,000 for evacuations and emergency protective actions for the Grand County Sheriff; and $76,000 in overtime for county government employees…

Before the East Troublesome Fire, the county had been battling the nearly 15,000-acre Williams Fork Fire for over a month. Other fires the county responded to during this dry year included the Dice Hill Fire just on the other side of the Summit County line and the Deep Creek Fire outside Kremmling.

Debris removal from the East Troublesome Fire will likely be too much for the county to handle alone. Grand has estimated that debris could exceed over 30,000 cubic yards and cost more than $27 million to haul off…

Water’s depths

Various watersheds hit by the fire — including the Poudre River, North Fork of the Big Thompson River, North Fork Colorado River, Three Lakes, Willow Creek and the East Troublesome Creek — are expected to feel the effects for a long time.

These impacts will reach far beyond Grand County, which supplies water to major cities on the northern Front Range. Northern Water provides water to more than a million people, which is equal to 615,000 irrigated acres in northern Colorado.

“Sedimentation, debris flows and water contamination will threaten drinking water supplies for years to come,” the commissioners said.

Other environmental impacts like erosion and forest health are only just beginning to be evaluated.

Hazard tree removal is another concern, as fire damage has made many trees in the burn area a falling hazard. The Colorado State Forester estimates over 1,000 trees will need to be removed in county right of ways…

Estimates peg the overall damage from the fire at nearly $200 million. That amount could go up as the aftermath grows clearer.

A burnt sign on Larimer County Road 103 near Chambers Lake. The fire started in the area near Cameron Peak, which it is named after. The fire burned over 200,000 acres during its three-month run. Photo courtesy of Kate Stahla via the University of Northern Colorado

From the University of Northern Colorado (Kate Stahla):

Ash darkens the sky. The sun is completely blacked out. Everything has an eerie orange glow. Cinders rain down and cover every surface with soot. This isn’t some apocalyptic movie or dystopian future. This is real life on the Colorado Front Range.

2020 has been an active fire year. Four of Colorado’s top five wildfires burned this year. Air quality on the front range has been dire, especially considering the ongoing respiratory pandemic. Now that the two largest fires of the summer are now both sitting at 100% containment, Colorado must face its increasingly flammable future.

The Cameron Peak fire started Aug. 13 in the mountains near Chambers Lake. It smoldered for months until a mid-October wind storm propelled it into becoming the largest wildfire in Colorado history. By the time fire crews completely contained it, on Dec. 3, it had burned up over 200,000 acres.

The East Troublesome fire has an even more explosive story. The fire was reported near Parshall Oct. 14 and contained Nov. 30, but in that short span grew to be the state’s second-largest fire. The fire grew by over 87,000 acres between Oct. 21 and 22, destroyed parts of Grand Lake and threatened Granby and Estes Park.

These fires were a consequence of the long-term drought and pine beetle epidemic that Colorado is facing. According to the official incident report for the East Troublesome fire, between 60-80% of trees burned had already been killed by pine beetles. That, combined with dry and windy conditions, created a perfect storm for fire conditions.

The outlook isn’t good for fires in the future. Many of the areas that were not burned are littered with downed and dead trees. According to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the entire state of Colorado is experiencing some form of drought. Some of the hardest hit areas are the headwaters of the Colorado and Cache la Poudre rivers — right where the fires started.

These watersheds are vital to the survival of the Front Range. Water from the Colorado river is pumped into the Big Thompson and supplies farms and cities throughout Northern Colorado. The Poudre river provides water and recreation to Fort Collins and Greeley. Because of the fires at their headwaters, flash floods and ash contamination are now more likely.

Ash and smoke blotted out the sky and directly impacted air quality on the Front Range. People were advised to stay inside and avoid exercising. Temperatures under the ash plumes could be 10 degrees lower than under the sun. UNC students, already coping with a deadly respiratory virus, also had to contend with dangerous levels of smoke. Callista Gallegos, a UNC student, had a difficult time facing both at once.

“Half the time I couldn’t go outside because I would not be able to breathe, so I was literally stuck inside and it was awful,” she said.

This year’s fire season is now over, but it contains lessons for the future. Colorado has been grappling with the effects of climate change for a while. Four of Colorado’s top five wildfires burned this year, and all of Colorado’s top ten wildfires have burned since 2000. Whether or not worse things are to come depends entirely on what actions are taken now.

Leave a Reply