Committee focuses on details of Black Forest fire clean-up

By Ryan Handy Published: July 8, 2013 | 7:10 pm 0

At its first meeting on Monday, the El Paso County clean-up committee learned one of its first lessons from the Black Forest fire, as it tries to meet the needs of residents who are cleaning up hazardous debris in the burn area.

One of first topics tackled by the committee, a subcomittee of the Black Forest Long Term Recovery Group, was Dumpsters and where to place them throughout the forest area, where at least 511 homes burned in early June. The problem, residents told chairwoman Commissioner Amy Lathen, is that they don't need Dumpsters anymore - they needed them took weeks ago.

The committee that includes including Commissioner Darryl Glenn and Lathen, is working to catch up to the needs of thousands of residents following the catastrophic fire.

The committee will try to set and educate people on standards for debris removal - for instance, what materials can be buried on site - as well future plans for mitigation in the forest. The committee will have regular meetings, the next one set for Friday, and it will report back to the Long Term Recovery committee with suggestions, Lathen said.

Lathen directed the meeting set tasks, most involving clean-up and public health hazards in the burn area. After the committee bagged the idea of dumpsters, at the suggestion of at least 20 residents in the audience, they moved to potable toilets, five of which have been placed throughout the Black Forest neighborhood for residents and volunteers. The portable toilets are ideal for volunteers working in the area, a volunteer coordinator, Rob Martin, told the committee. But Lathen pointed out they come at a price - $100 a day for each - that "is not sustainable."

Finding alternatives to clean-up efforts, especially as the months go on, is a theme for the committee. Just as the county can't continue to finance the toilets, the "county can't do all of the clean-up," Lathen said. Residents are responsible for cleaning up private property, but the county can assist, the only question is how.

Tom Gonzales, with the county's health department, will help the committee set clean-up standards.

In addition to discussing the burn area's 41 damaged wells, Gonzales warned the committee about the high level of asbestos in Black Forest, left behind when hundreds of older homes burned.

The county learned from the Waldo Canyon fire clean-up, but by and large it will seek to forge its own road to recovery, said Glenn.

The committee specifically addressed Colorado Springs Together, a non-profit recovery group founded after the Waldo Canyon fire, that has offered the county a few suggestions, Glenn said.

"They have reached out several times and there are some things that we are not willing to do," Glenn said, but did not elaborate. "We are not comfortable going down the path that they have chosen."

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Contact Ryan Maye Handy: 636-0261

Twitter @ryanmhandy

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