Fri June 22, 2012

In Denver, Hayman Fire Symposium Brings Comparisons, Draws Lessons to High Park Fire

Lessons learned from Colorado’s largest wildfire in recorded history might help restoration efforts in the forests and watersheds affected by the current High Park Fire west of Fort Collins. 

That’s one of the takeaways from a US Forest Service sponsored wildfire science symposium going on this week in Denver as part of a ten year anniversary of the 2002 Hayman Fire.

"Since the Hayman Fire, we’ve made some large advances in our ability to make assessments and make better decisions, and hopefully we’ll see that implemented in these next couple of months here on the Colorado Front Range," says Pete Robichaud, an engineer with a USFS research station in Idaho.

Robichaud was one of dozens of speakers at the Hayman Fire Science Symposium in a meeting room at Denver's REI flagship store.

Like the Hayman fire, the High Park Fire is burning so severely in some places that the forest floor will be stripped of all vegetation, leaving it vulnerable to mudslides and flash floods.

That could send contaminated soils into streams and reservoirs.  It's what happened in 2002 the in the South Platte River basin that supplies water to much of the Denver metro area.  

So do advancements in science and technology mean that people living around the High Park Fire in 2012 should be less concerned that erosion could impact local water supplies? 

Yes and no, says Robichaud.

"When we implement these treatments, it’s not going to stop everything coming off that hill slope, that’s unrealistic if we get the right kind of storms that will come through, but they will reduce it," he said.  "A lot of the research we’ve done in the past 10 years has shown the benefits of some of those treatments on reducing that risk."

Robichaud says the teams will likely find that some parts of these burned areas are more severe and thus more at risk than others; so not all of the High Park burn area could be posing immediate risks to reservoirs that serve cities like Greeley and Fort Collins. 

At least that’s what they found studying the Hayman area, where research and restoration continues  today.