2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • 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.
  • U.S. Forest Service seeking public comment of Waldo Canyon erosion control projects

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

    The U.S. Forest has opened up a 30-day long public comment period on its Waldo Fire Area Sediment Control project, which will be constructing sediment basins, log erosion barriers and bolstering culverts throughout the Waldo Canyon fire burn scar.

    The project will span 2,000 acres, and aims to prevent mudslides and debris flow down the mountain–such as the community of Manitou Springs has seen over the past two weeks.

    All comments or questions about the project can be sent be letters, emails or messages. Please send comments to:

    Mike Picard, Project NEPA Coordinator

    San Isabel National Forest

    5575 Cleora Road, Salida, CO


    Phone: 719-530-3959

    Fax: 719-539-3593

    Email: mpicard@fs.fed.us, please reference “Waldo Fire Area Sediment Control Comments” in the subject line.

  • Flood awareness meetings next week

    Fri, May 31, 2013 by Ryan Handy with no comments

    The city of Colorado Springs will be hosting two flood awareness meetings for westside residents who live in the North and South Douglas Creek flood plains.

    If you’re not sure if you live in a flood plain, check out these preliminary maps released last week, and look up your address. There are separate maps for the each of the creeks, including camp creek.

    There are two meetings, one for residents and the other for business owners:


    Residents – North and South Douglas Creeks

    Tuesday, June 4

    6:00 – 8:30 p.m.

    Front Range Alliance Church

    5210 Centennial Blvd.


    Businesses – North and South Douglas Creeks

    Thursday, June 6

    1:00 – 3:00 p.m.

    El Paso County Citizens Service Center, Room 1020

    1675 West Garden of the Gods Rd.

  • Looking back: A disastrous June

    Tue, May 28, 2013 by Ryan Handy with no comments

    Ramah tornado

    Last June was a transformative time for Colorado Springs–the Waldo Canyon fire, the most destructive in state history, burned over 18,000 acres and destroyed 347 homes.

    But, the catastrophic wildfire was hardly the only destructive force to hit El Paso County last summer. Remember that hail storm on June 6? And the tornado in Ramah?

    Gazette reporter Matt Steiner did a great look-back at last June, and all the challenges that it brought to county residents.

    Read the story here.

  • Cost of wildfire recovery in Colorado

    Tue, May 28, 2013 by Ryan Handy with no comments

    County commissioners from El Paso and Larimer Counties will be meeting tomorrow in Denver to discuss the state of wildfire recovery projects and efforts for the Waldo Canyon and High Park fire burn scars.

    El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark, whose district encompasses acres of burned forest as well as Mountain Shadows, will be attending the meeting. In an email, Clark said the meeting should be mostly for planning and funding for future projects. Clark also passed along a great list of the current projects underway in El Paso County.

    Based on a round-up of the costs of recovery efforts in both counties, it looks like El Paso is coming out on top.

    Here are some highlights:

    • Thus far, recovery efforts for El Paso County have reached $10,564,833. That compares to $9,199,941 in Larimer.
    • Of all the agencies involved in recovery, the U.S. Forest Service has the most expensive of the various recovery projects, costing $5,631,869.
    • A large amount of money for recovery and flood prevention projects came to the city of Colorado Springs through a Colorado Fire Relief Fund grant.
    • The city of Manitou Springs spent $18,750 on emergency alert sirens.

    I’m working on a way to attach the spreadsheet, which lists all the costs. More to come.


  • FedEx awards grant to wildfire recovery group

    Tue, May 21, 2013 by Ryan Handy with no comments

    In honor of a $30,000 grant from FedEx to the Coalition for the Upper South Platte (CUSP), a non-profit group helping with wildfire recovery here, FedEx workers and CUSP volunteers will be working together in the Waldo Canyon burn scar this Friday on flood mitigation projects.

    From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday some Colorado Springs firefighters will join the volunteer efforts, which will focus on removing debris from flood paths, filling and placing sandbags,  and planting grass seeds within the Waldo Canyon burn scar.  This is the second restoration project for local FedEx employees–last week, FedEx workers volunteered with Rocky Mountain Field Institute with burn scar rehabilitation, as well.

    CUSP has several projects going on this week that need volunteers. All you have to do visit the group’s website and register for one of the projects, including the FedEx event on Friday.



  • Two USFS studies highlight fire impacts in urban zones

    Fri, May 17, 2013 by Ryan Handy with no comments

    Two recent studies from the U.S. Forest Service discuss how wildfires affect and change urban communities. Both are more or less compendiums of decades of study and approach things from fire survivors’ perspectives.

    The first study, “Social Science at the Wildland-Urban Interface,” looks at the social impacts of wildfire–how a devastating fire has psychological consequences for communities, and how homeowners learn from wildfire experiences and change their practices.

    Some highlights:

    • Most homeowners in the wildland urban interface know the dangers that wildfires pose to their neighborhoods. But, awareness of the risk doesn’t always translate into homeowners taking action, such as doing mitigation on their properties. Often many have a “lightning strikes once” perspective, as in, this happened once, why would it happen again? Also, most homeowners who live in risk zones, but who have never experienced wildfire, wait until a wildfire hits to take precautions.
    • Community perceptions of how wildfires were managed by firefighters or local governments have long-lasting impacts. Sometimes, a wildfire brings a community closer together; other times, it creates tension and drives a community apart. Communication during the fire is key to this–the more people know, the better they feel. 
    • Psychological impacts of surviving a fire are equally long-lasting. Home loss, smoke damage, and permanently transformed landscapes all contribute.
    • Are their alternatives to mandatory evacuations? The report considers how residents handle being driven out of their homes for days (not always well) and the incredible angst they might feel wondering if their homes have survived. Australia allows residents to fight brush fires, and also allows residents to seek shelter in their homes from flames.
    • A few things are on residents’ mind after a fire, and first among them (according to researchers) is the cause of the wildfire. Officials have not yet released the cause of the Waldo Canyon fire. 

    The second report, “Wildfires, Wildlands, and People: Understanding and Preparing for Wildfire in the Urban Interface,” is pretty self-explanatory. It looks at some of the same aspects as the first report–for instance, what motivates people to prepare for wildfires–and also notes the growing number of homes in the danger zone. It also talks about the delicate balance of wildfires–fire is a key component to many ecosystems, but it is also proving more and more devastating to humans.

    Some highlights:

    • 32 percent of homes in the United States are in the wildland urban interface.
    • Wildfires serious impact home values. Studies have found that up to two years following a destructive wildfire, the values of the surviving home are lower.
    • More people are moving into the wildland urban interface–something researchers have know for a while. But this report posits something new–that as Baby Boomers start to retire, more of them will be seeking off-the-beaten-path locales, in fire-prone areas, spiking the numbers of residents in the interface.

    If you’re into reading more about fires and fire science, I suggest you sign up for the Joint Fire Science Program eblasts–they don’t come very often, but when they do, they point great out studies, like these, on wildfire. Sign up for emails on the program’s website, on the right hand side of the screen. 


  • Wildfire drill for Upper Skyway residents this Saturday

    Thu, May 16, 2013 by Ryan Handy with no comments

    Residents of the southwestern Colorado Springs Upper Skyway neighborhood will be participating in a wildfire drill on Saturday morning.

    Here’s the schedule for the drill:

    • 8:45 a.m. : Door-to-door evacuation notifications.
    • 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.: Actual evacuations.
    • 10 a. m. : Discussion with residents, Colorado Springs Police and Fire Departments about the drill.

    If you can, avoid Cresta Road during the evacuation. For more information about how to prepare to evacuate–what to take, where to go, etc.–check out the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office “Ready, Set, Go!” page.

    And don’t forget that Saturday is also a free sandbag pick up day for residents impacted by the Waldo Canyon fire. You can pick up free, filled sandbags at 30th Street and Garden of the Gods Road, at the Verizon building parking lot.  Pick-up is from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m., or until supplies last.





  • Emergency preparedness for the deaf

    Tue, May 14, 2013 by Ryan Handy with no comments

    The Independence Center will be hosting an emergency preparedness session for the deaf this Friday afternoon.

    The center’s  “deaf chat” will feature officials from the city of Colorado Springs and El Paso County, who will discuss how to prepare for a disaster–namely, a flood or a fire. Interpreters will be provided.

    The chat starts at 3 p.m. and goes until 5 p.m.,  at The Independence Center, 729 S. Tejon Street. Attendees are encouraged to bring food to share, but drinks and cookies will be provided. For more information, contact Matthew Ruggles at 719-602-0872, or mruggles@theindependencecenter.org.