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Black Forest fire lesson is mitigation works - when everyone does it

January 29, 2014 Updated: January 29, 2014 at 10:21 pm
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The Black Forest Fire burns the grass but not a home in Cathedral Pines Thursday, June 13, 2013, during the third day of the Black Forest Fire. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

One of the major lessons from the Black Forest fire was that mitigation worked.

A good example was Cathedral Pines, where the upscale community, including the developer, worked to mitigate wildfire risk.

It paid off, said Keith Worley, forester with Forestree Development. He is also past president of Pikes Peak Wildfire Prevention Partners, which presented an assessment of the Black Forest fire Wednesday to residents at a meeting of the El Paso County Black Forest Fire Long Range Recovery Planning Committee.

"Mitigation will save your home," Worley said. "Mitigating your whole property will save your home."

But, he added, it needs to be done community-wide.

There were several examples mitigation that was properly done on one home, but destroyed by the fire because neighboring homes were not mitigated, he said.

Recovery from the Black Forest fire, which scorched the area north of Colorado Springs in the summer of 2013, continues as residents rebuild.

The blaze, which started June 11, burned 14,280 acres and 488 homes and killed two.

In Cathedral Pines, only one home was lost.

Covenants in the Cathedral Pines community required fire resistant materials, according to the report. There were also examples of forest thinning that helped protect the community and road rights of way were cleared of debris, Worley said.

As a result, firefighters were safer and able to fight longer and more effectively in the Cathedral Pines area, and losses were minimized.

In other parts of Black Forest, "Folks who did not mitigate had a major impact on their (firefighters') safety, but also their effectiveness," Worley said.,

"Forestry and fuel treatments were effective in modifying fire behavior" in Cathedral Pines, the report says.

El Paso County government can help, Worley said.

Steps the county should take include:

-- County road rights of way should be cleared and kept free of oak and

conifer trees.

-- Culverts in public rights of way and across any fire department access routes or

potential access routes should be constructed of non-combustible material.

-- County open spaces and parks that abut residential areas should be prioritized

for fuel treatments that promote fire adapted ecosystems.

-- The county should be a model for ecosystem restoration and fire


-- The county should not allow creation of any private open spaces or lots

within future subdivisions in which the ecosystem or forest has not been

restored to a fire-adapted condition.

-- And the county must partner with fire departments in the development of building

regulations that promote compatibility with wildfire prone environments.

The Black Forest fire, Worley said, as disastrous as it was, offers the area an "opportunity to partner together to live safely in the wildland interface."

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