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Flooding, restoration remain focus after Waldo Canyon fire

By Scott Harrison
Published On: Jul 16 2012 10:18:11 PM CDT
Updated On: Jul 17 2012 12:31:59 AM CDT

Officials want residents to be prepared for increased risk.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -

Officials continue to educate residents about what to expect from impacts of the recent Waldo Canyon wildfire -- impacts that already have been seen in the past week.

People who live in west Colorado Springs, along drainage channels and near Fountain and Monument creeks are being reminded that more flash floods, mudslides and similar events will occur because the wildfire burn area no longer can absorb runoff as it once did.

"It's not a question of if we're going to have events from rain.  It's when," said Jerri Marr of the U.S. Forest Service.  "We want people to know that.  We're not here to scare people.  We just want to prepare them."

Officials emphasize the need for affected residents to seek high ground and know where they're going ahead of time.

"Relocate, not evacuate," said Lt. Brian Ritz of the Colorado Police Department.

Ritz said officials are discussing how to possibly help property owners protect their property in case of a flash flood.

"We talk about the idea of sandbags," he said.   "But there may be some code issues or some other issues that come up with that.  There could be issues where you sandbag your property, and now you've diverted it, and now you're threatening someone else's property who wasn't threatened originally."

Helen West, a west side resident, has lived along the 31st Street drainage channel since 1966.  She said she has seen only one flash flood since then.

"It got into basements on the other side, the west side, of 31st Street," she said.  "I was OK.  I was on the east side, which is a little higher."

West said she hadn't given much thought to a plan of action to escape a flash flood, but she is now.

"I have gathered things together because of the fire, so I'm kind of packed up in case of a flood," she said.  "I have friends who live in higher places."

Meanwhile, the Burned Area Emergency Recovery Team known as the BAER team, a national group of experts, is implementing a three-year recovery plan for the burn area.  Members say they're using strategies that are recommended but have not been approved yet.

"Things like putting straw or wood mulch on the ground," said team member Marc Stamer.  "It depends on the area.  But even when those slopes green up for the next three, five or longer years, there still is going to be an elevated response."

Stamer says a longer-range recovery plan still is being formulated.

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