2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • Black Forest lessons learned meeting on Thursday

    Wed, August 21, 2013 by Ryan Handy with no comments

    El Paso County will be a hosting a public lessons learned meeting on Thursday evening to discuss the Black Forest fire and its aftermath.

    The meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. and ends at 7:30 p.m. at The Tent, New Life Church, 11035 Voyager Parkway.

    The meeting will be for community feedback on the fire and the comments will eventually be compiled into the county’s “Lessons Learned after-action report on the Black Forest fire.”




  • Reuters video of the Waldo Canyon fire

    Wed, August 21, 2013 by Ryan Handy with no comments

    Reuters photographer Rick Wilking put together a retrospective of the Waldo Canyon fire using radio calls, his own photography, and interviews with residents.

    It addresses some of the concerns that emerged from the fire’s start–the search for the fire on June 23, and the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office dispatcher who failed to pass on some potentially vital information–and talks to residents about the night their homes burned.

    Watch the video and read his blog post.

    Wilking explains his project in the post, and he has an interesting (and different) perspective as a national reporter who lives in the area. He brings up an interesting point–big disasters like the Waldo Canyon fire attract media attention from all over the globe. As the fire became more serious, I remember seeing more and more photographers and reporters thronging the media briefings. The drama lasts for a few more days, or weeks, then dies away–and the reporters dissipate as well.

    I have often wondered, do residents feel preyed upon by the media during a disaster? Yes, I think some do. The question is: Do people find it valuable when we stick around to tell their stories?




  • Volunteer flood clean-up day in Black Forest

    Fri, August 9, 2013 by Ryan Handy with no comments

    Outdoor Colorado is hosting a volunteer clean-up even in Black Forest Regional Park on Saturday, Aug. 10. More than 100 volunteers are already planning to help with a repair and restoration project to stabilize a drainage basin in the park. The project is designed to minimize erosion and the flow of debris from the burn scar into other areas of the park.

    Sleep Giant Industries has donated 50 pallets of mulch to the project, and will be working with volunteers on Saturday as well. The project will cover three acres. The park is at 4800 Shoup Road, and has 427 acres including grassy area, tennis courts, a playground and picnic grounds. All of the parks facilities survived the Black Forest fire but now face flash flood danger.

    There will also be a Saturday seminar on rebuilding and repairing damaged homes with a focus on energy and water efficiency. The Saturday seminar, hosted by Colorado Renewable Energy Society, will be the first of two–the second is on Oct. 5.

    Saturday’s seminar will be at Edith Woldford Elementary School, 13710 Black Forest Road, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The seminar is an expanded version of talks given to Mountain Shadows homeowners last summer; it will address the basics of home energy and water efficiency and energy efficient heating and cooling, among others.  The talks will include specific information about efficient energy initiatives from Black Hills Energy and Mountain View Electric Association.

    For more information contact Jim Riggins, 719-313-6171. Information can also be found at secres.org/events/blackforest.html

  • El Paso County Long Range Recovery meeting tonight

    Wed, July 31, 2013 by Ryan Handy with no comments

    The El Paso County Commissioners have their monthly Black Fores Fire Long Range Recovery meeting tonight, July 31. The county has divided the tasks of recovery into subcommittees, which will report their findings on Wednesday night.

    Residents are encouraged to attend the meeting to get the latest updates on fire recovery,  as well as ask questions. Read more about the meeting, as well as the latest updates on the FEMA grants.

    The meeting will be from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at The Tent at New Life Church, 11035 Voyager Parkway 80921.

    Also, on Thursday night, the insurance  non-profit United Policyholders will host another workshop on insurance. The workshop will be from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at The Pinery, 12375 Black Forest Road.




  • Wildfire legislation: A wrap-up

    Tue, July 30, 2013 by Ryan Handy with no comments

    Two Colorado senators, Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, have been pushing legislative action on wildfire prevention and recovery. Here’s a wrap-up:

    • Sen. Udall and Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, proposed on Monday legislation that would allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency to work proactively with communities on wildfire mitigation projects. The bill would make Colorado, Oklahoma and other states eligible for an additional 15 percent of FEMA funds for wildfire mitigation–the funds would come from the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, which currently only funds wildfire suppression. The bill also place wildfires on par with other natural disasters, such as tornadoes and hurricanes.
    • Sen. Bennet and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, proposed an amendment on July 25 to a Congressional plan to test drone-technology in several states. The Federal Aviation Administration is already working with Congress on six test sites around the county, where unmanned aerial systems, or drones, can be used. Bennet and Flake asked that two more test sites be added specifically for Colorado, for testing drone technology on wildfire detection and firefighting. Read this article for more information about the ideas behind drones and wildfire.
    • Sen. Bennet and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, have introduced a measure into the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Bill that requires FEMA to put together a report on its wildfire mitigation projects, as well as identify any obstacles to funding those programs. A 2007 study of FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation program sets very little funding aside for wildfires.
  • Sheriff Terry Maketa to speak at Faces of the Fire

    Tue, July 30, 2013 by Ryan Handy with no comments

    El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa will speaking at a Faces of the Fire event on Friday, Aug. 2.

    Faces of the Fire was founded after the Waldo Canyon fire last year, as a group that tells the stories of people involved in and affected by the fire. Maketa will be speaking about lessons learned from the Waldo Canyon fire, and how they influenced the management of the Black Forest fire.

    The talk will begin at 5 p.m. and will end at 7 p.m. The event is free, but guests are encouraged to make donations, which will go towards the renovation of Mountain Shadows Park.

  • Sen. Mark Udall asks for USFS review of Black Forest fire

    Tue, July 23, 2013 by Ryan Handy with no comments

    Sen. Mark Udall has asked the U.S. Forest Service to review its use of aircraft during the Black Forest fire to distill lessons learned for future fires along the Front Range.

    The air response to the fire, the most destructive in state history, has been touted as a great success by the Senator as well as El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa. In a letter to the forest service, Udall asked for details on how the forest service plans to integrate lessons learned from both the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires into future air response plans.

    Udall is particularly interested in the use of military aircraft to fight wildfire.

    “I was relieved to see that military aircraft from Fort Carson and the Colorado National Guard were activated early in the Black Forest Fire to drop water and fly spotter missions for ground personnel, and eventually dropped approximately 30,000 gallons of water on the fire. On the ground, the 40 personnel from the Colorado’s National Guard Reaction Force who manned security checkpoints in the Black Forest area demonstrated the type of swift cooperation required in rapidly evolving disaster scenarios.”

    Udall also requested information about a potential interagency wildfire plan for the Front Range, which could incorporate  military as well as forest service aircraft.

    Last summer, Udall participated in an after action review of the military aircraft response to the Waldo Canyon fire.  Listen to a briefing of that review here.

    Click here to read the letter from Udall to the forest service.

  • Free Care and Share market for Black Forest survivors, first responders

    Fri, July 19, 2013 by Ryan Handy with no comments

    Care and Share Food Bank will host the first of two free Black Forest fire farmers markets on Saturday, July 20, at the Pikes Peak Community College.

    The market offers fresh produce, meat, dairy and non-perishable family food boxes exclusively to first responders or residents who were evacuated, lost their homes or who were unemployed for some period during the Black Forest fire.

    Residents are asked to bring proof of residence or employment; first responders should bring proof of employment. The market will open at 10 a.m. and will close at 2 p.m. It will be at the Rampart Range Campus, 11195 Highway 83. The second market will be held in the same location on July 27.

  • Colorado fires and Canadian flooding–connected?

    Fri, July 12, 2013 by Ryan Handy with no comments

    The short answer is: Yes, and no.

    This morning, I read in the “Rocky Mountain Outlook” an article that connected Colorado’s June wildfires to massive flooding in the Canadian province of Alberta. It seemed a bit far-fetched, but intriguing.

    Colorado fires themselves did not contribute to Alberta flooding, but both were (ironically) caused by the same weather system, said Dr. John Pomeroy, director of the University of Saskatchewan’s hydrology department.

    Here’s what happened:

    In early June, as the Black Forest fire was raging just outside of Colorado Springs, a high-pressure cell was over Colorado, making conditions hot and dry–prime weather for a firestorm.

    “When you get a high pressure cell, it’s very dry air and it tends to be sunny, then you have warm and dry conditions,” Pomeroy explained. “When you get in a long term drought it’s often high pressure for a long time.”

    This cell moved north, and right around the Montana/Alberta border it became trapped in the Rockies, where it rose, cooled, and eventually moved into Alberta, where it dumped the moisture it had collected from Colorado. This effect is called a “cold low.”

    While Colorado was desperate for rain, Alberta was desperate to get out of it.

    “It was raining an inch an hour for quite a while,” Pomeroy said. “The total rainfall was 10 inches over two days. Then we had snow-melt that contributed to another 10 inches of water.”

    It was also cold in Canada–towards the end of the rain-burst,  the storm turned into snow.

    “The moisture was actually getting suck out of Colorado,” Pomeroy added. “So it was the moisture that you would have liked to have had.”

    Cold lows are typically what cause flash-flooding in Colorado in the  summer, when the monsoonal flow becomes trapped in the mountains, and ultimately have all their moisture squeeze out of them. This storm set up was hovering over Colorado in June, but “it was probably pushed out by  the high pressure cell” that was adding heat and dryness to fires, Pomeroy said.

    “It was kind of strange that it moved this far more.,” Pomeroy said of the storm. “We were getting Colorado’s weather.”






  • How much of the forest is gone after the Black Forest fire?

    Fri, July 12, 2013 by Ryan Handy with no comments

    Technically, the Black Forest fire, which started on June 11, burned 14,280 acres.  It didn’t entirely consume the forest–there are large pockets of greenery that survived–but in other areas it was utterly devastating.

    This before-and-after NASA image of the fire gives  a glimpse of just how much of the forest is gone–and that’s quite a bit.

    Screen Shot 2013-07-12 at 10.35.09 AM