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News crews tour Waldo Canyon burn zone Wednesday

Published On: May 29 2013 06:09:25 PM CDT
Updated On: May 29 2013 08:09:27 PM CDT

The U.S. Forest Service briefly allows access to the area that remains closed to the public.

EL PASO/TELLER COUNTIES, Colo. -

Much of the Waldo Canyon burn zone remains closed to the public, but the U.S. Forest Service allowed news crews to document the area's ongoing recovery.

The wildfire last June burned more than 18,000 acres, destroyed 346 homes, heavily damaged the Flying W Ranch tourist attraction, and was a factor in the deaths of an elderly couple.  The fire's exact cause remains unknown, but authorities have said someone started it, accidentally or intentionally.

Most roads into the area remain closed because of the risk of burned trees falling and heavy vehicles in use.  The Forest Service said many of the burned trees in the Pike National Forest were 150 years old, and it will take about that long for the trees to regrow.

Around 2,000 people have been working in the burn zone to trap debris and sediment in the hopes of reducing the threat of flash flooding downstream, into populated areas.

"If we did nothing, the floods that will come over the next 10 years would be worse," said Carol Ekarius of the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, the organization overseeing recovery work.  "But we're still going to have bad floods downstream.  All we can do is help nature heal itself."

Allan Hahn of the Forest Service said there has been some regrowth of vegetation where soil wasn't burned as badly. 

"These landscapes are intended to have fires in them," said Hahn.  "But not in the middle of an afternoon in single-digit humidity with 40 mph winds.  This is our back yard.  This is about as bad a place to have a fire as (there is)."

The Forest Service said once the soil and slopes are more stable, more tree planting will be done in the coming years.

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