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Colorado flood damage may hurt ability to fight fires

By: Associated Press
February 7, 2014 Updated: February 7, 2014 at 7:10 pm
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Damaged and/or washed-out roads from last year's floods will hinder firefighters' ability to respond. Colorado's congressional delegation is asking the federal government to move faster in its effort to repair roads. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

DENVER — Members of Colorado's congressional delegation are asking the federal government to move more quickly to fix flood damage to roads and other access routes to allow firefighters to avoid delays as the state's wildfire season approaches.

Many of the worst hit roads are in the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests in Larimer and Boulder counties, where flooding affected approximately 230,000 acres. The September floods caused about $3 billion in damage, including $44 million in national forests.

The floods in northern and eastern Colorado killed nine people and damaged or destroyed nearly 2,000 homes, and left many mountain access roads impassable. Construction crews are still struggling to make permanent repairs.

During the past two years, Colorado has experienced its worst wildfire seasons. Blazes in Colorado Springs and Fort Collins destroyed more than 1,000 homes and killed five people.

Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet and Reps. Jared Polis, Diana DeGette and Ed Perlmutter have signed a letter urging both the Department of Agriculture and one of its agencies, the U.S. Forest Service, to move faster, the Loveland Reporter-Herald reported Friday (http://tinyurl.com/lg5ydg4).

Flooding in national Forests in Larimer and Boulder counties caused at least 250 debris slides, and destroyed or damaged 382 miles of roads, four bridges and 42 recreational facilities. The lawmakers are worried that the long-term consequences could be dire if the forests don't get recovery help soon.

"The lack of road access could seriously jeopardize the ability of firefighters to quickly suppress wildfires and thus increases the risk of catastrophic fire for the fast-approaching 2014 wildfire season," the letter stated.

"In addition, other local land managers are rushing to stabilize landslides and remove debris from streams in advance of the spring runoff. If debris issues are not addressed, melting spring snowpack will back up in rivers and streams and cause a new round of flooding in communities that are still struggling to rebuild," the legislators warned.

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