Last Saturday was Black Forest Fire remembrance day, the seventh anniversary of the day in 2013 when the Black Forest Fire — the most destructive fire in Colorado’s history — reached 100% containment.

Organized by the Black Forest Fire Department and Black Forest Community Center, the event featured educational displays, a Boy Scout color guard and speakers giving firsthand accounts of fighting the fire that blackened more than 14,000 acres and destroyed more than 500 homes, killing two people.

“June 20th was also the beginning of the difficult battle that continues to this day in our hearts and landscape,” the BFFD stated in a news release.

“Our motto for this day: NEVER FORGET.”

Area residents who experienced the massive fires in the region in the last two decades need no reminder that fire season is upon us.

June is the month that summer officially starts; it’s also the month when three terrible recent fires occurred in the Pikes Peak region.

Leaving a wake of destruction along with indelible memories were the Hayman Fire in 2002, the Waldo Canyon Fire in 2012 and the Black Forest Fire in 2013.

Colorado’s largest recorded fire, the Hayman Fire consumed 138,114 acres and destroyed 599 structures in June and July 2002, racking up a $42 million firefighting tab and a $75 million bill for water treatment, evacuation costs and rehabilitation projects, per Gazette reports.

It destroyed 215 square miles across Teller, Douglas, Park and Jefferson counties, burning $23.7 million in property and forcing more than 8,000 people to evacuate. The heaviest loss was in Teller: $13.7 million in property lost, reports stated.

It was this week in June 2012 that the Waldo Canyon Fire was first reported in Pike National Forest. It burned more than 18,000 acres over two weeks and left its mark on the Canyon.

According to the Gazette, the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fire killed four people, destroyed 833 homes, and cost $600 million in insurance claims.

Every year wildfires erupt in our region. They have become par for the course for those of us living in an near the forest.

Higher temperatures, such as last week’s string of 90-degree days in the Colorado Springs area, are at the root of the issue. Coupled with drought and high wind, our arid climate is prime fire fodder.

“The fire season starts earlier, there are more consecutive days with higher temperatures, the fuel has more time to dry out,” Jennifer Marlon, associate research scientist at Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, told the Gazette in 2013. “We tend to think about precipitation, but temperature is surprisingly important as well.”

Just last week our horizon was clouded by visible smoke and haze from the East Canyon Fire west of Durango.

Our state’s “frontier mentality” has pushed people to build their homes in wildfire-prone regions.

What can you do to protect yourself and your property?

Mitigate your property. Have an escape plan. Buy a fire safe for precious items and documents. Obey the burn bans.

“It’s management, more education, awareness and outreach,” Marlon said in 2013. “We need to do more of this now.”

Still true.

The Department of Homeland Security offers these fire preparedness tips at Ready.gov/wildfires:

• Sign up for your community’s warning system. The Emergency Alert System and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Weather Radio also provide emergency alerts.

• Know your community’s evacuation plans and find several ways to leave the area. Drive the evacuation routes and find shelter locations. Have a plan for pets and livestock.

• Gather emergency supplies, including N95 respirator masks that filter out particles in the air you breathe. Keep in mind each person’s specific needs, including and updated asthma action plan and medication. Don’t forget the needs of pets.

• Designate a room that can be closed off from outside air. Close all doors and windows. Set up a portable air cleaner to keep indoor pollution levels low when smoky conditions exist.

• Keep important documents in a fireproof, safe place. Create password-protected digital copies.

• Use fire-resistant materials to build, renovate, or make repairs.

• Find an outdoor water source with a hose that can reach any area of your property.

• Create a fire-resistant zone that is free of leaves, debris, or flammable materials for at least 30 feet from your home.

• Review insurance coverage to make sure it is enough to replace your property.

• Pay attention to air quality alerts.

“We are on the hot seat, definitely,” said Jane Mannon, director of outreach and development for Coalition for the Upper South Platte, addressing Teller County business leaders May 7.

“Clearly we cannot dismiss the wildfire risk. Even knowing everything that is going on right now, the risk is not going to stop or be put on hold until we’re ready to deal with it.”

Editor of Pikes Peak Newspapers, Michelle Karas has called the Pikes Peak region home for five years. Contact Michelle at michelle.karas@pikespeaknewspapers.com.

Editor, Pikes Peak Newspapers

Michelle has been editor of the four Pikes Peak Newspapers (Pikes Peak Courier; Tri-Lakes Tribune; Cheyenne Edition; and Woodmen Edition) since June 2019. A Pennsylvania native and Penn State journalism graduate, she joined The Gazette's staff in 2015.

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