2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • Know your fire restrictions for 4th of July

    Wed, July 3, 2013 by Ryan Handy with no comments

    With a few serious wildfires raging across Colorado, many of the state’s counties have enacted fire bans or restrictions of some kind. 

    The Colorado Office of Emergency Management has an interactive map with the fire restrictions for each county–check it out and see if your Independence Day destination has fire restrictions.

    Currently, El Paso County has Stage I fire restrictions in place, which means you can’t (according to the Sheriff’s Office website):

    • Have open burning such as campfires and warming fires (except in permanently constructed fire grates in developed campgrounds and picnic grounds), charcoal grills and outdoor wood burning stoves (except at private residences in areas cleared of all flammable materials),  use explosives, outdoor welding or use acetylene or other torch with open flame other than in an area cleared of all flammable materials. Fires contained within liquid-fueled or gas-fueled stoves are permitted.
    • Use fireworks of all kinds.
    • Smoke outdoors except within an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site or while stopped in an area at least three feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable materials.

    Teller County has Stage II fire restrictions in place, which effectively ban all types of open burning, on public or private lands. 

    That means you can:

    • Use  gas, liquid or propane barbecues, gas stoves or lanterns that are at least 10 feet away from combustible walls or roofs, or other combustible materials.
    • Use of chainsaws with approved fire-extinguishing equipment readily available.

    And you can’t:

    • Have campfires
    • Fires in chiminea, outdoor fireplaces, and any other portable fireplaces or patio fire pits.
    • Use charcoal grills
    • Use wood or charcoal smokers
    • Do outdoor welding or cuttinng
    • Smoke (except inside vehicles)
    • Burn slash piles or any wood debris
    • Use any explosives (except for permitted mining operations)
    • Use fireworks of any type (except commercial fireworks within city limits)
    • Fire model rockets
    • Burn irrigation ditches unless they are completely surrounded by irrigated farmlands where burning is necessary for crop survival.

    Read more about the Teller County fire restrictions here.


  • Seminar for residents on fire mitigation

    Wed, July 3, 2013 by Ryan Handy with no comments

    Colorado State University will host a seminar on July 20 for El Paso County residents interested in learning more about Firewise landscaping — how to create defensible space around their homes and mitigate for fires. The seminar will cost $10 and has limited space; residents must register ahead of time to attend.

    The class will be from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., at the Monument Library, 1706 Lake Woodmoor Drive, in Monument. Residents can resister online http://www.eventbrite.com/event/6260221491# or call 719-520-7688.

  • BLM seeks input on forest thinning proposal

    Wed, June 26, 2013 by Ryan Handy with no comments

    The Bureau of Land Management is seeking public input on its Iron Mountain Fuelwood Sale project, that aims to thin the forest, restore some wildlife habitats, and even create jobs.

    The project targets 65 acres in Fremont County, just 7.5 miles southeast of Texas Creek. The area is densely packed with pinyon and ponderosa pines, about 300 trees per acre; forest managers would like to take that down to 50 to 100 trees an acre.

    Densely packed forests are fire hazards as well as easy targets for lethal bark beetles.

    All comments on the project must be submitted by July 12. They can be emailed, BLM_CO_RG_Comments@blm.gov, with “Iron Mountain Fuelwood Sale” in the subject line, or mailed to the BLM Royal Gorge Field Office, 3028 East Main, Cañon City, CO 81212.

    BLM cautions that any personal information offered in the letters or email could be made public.  Commenters can request that BLM withhold their comment from public viewing, but there is not guarantee that the agency will be able to do so.


  • Centers for Disease Control…and wildfires

    Tue, June 4, 2013 by Ryan Handy with no comments

    Bill Gabbert, author of Wildfire Today–a fantastic wildland fire blog–posted about the Centers for Disease Control and their suggestions for dealing with an encroaching wildfire.

    Unlikely grouping? Not really, I think, as wildfire smoke can pose a serious threat to health in the short-term and the long-term. Some Mountain Shadows residents, for instance, are still dealing with smoke particles circulating in their houses.

    Gabbert found this great graphic by the CDC, which is a short-cut to wildfire evacuation–with tips that will help keep your home safe and lower the impact of smoke damage, perhaps.



    Screen Shot 2013-06-04 at 10.47.30 AM

    You can view a larger version of the graphic by clicking here.  These are things you can do now, long before an evacuation notice goes out. 

  • Senate committee meets to discuss management of wildfires

    Tue, June 4, 2013 by Ryan Handy with no comments

    The U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee met Tuesday morning to grill U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell on the agency’s management of wildfires and how to cut down costs.

    Several experts in the field of wildland fire and forest ecology gave witness statements–which you can read here (scroll down to the bottom of the page)–as well as fielded questions from Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, the committee’s chairman. Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, a democrat, also serves on the committee.

    It’s a long hearing but one notable fact emerged: Studies have shown that aggressive mitigation and reduction of hazardous fuels–eliminating dead trees, for instance–has helped to drastically cut the costs of suppressing wildfires.

    You can watch the archived senate hearing here.

    Or, watch and excerpt of the hearing featuring Sen. Udall 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.


  • 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. 


  • Chipping in northwest Colorado Springs next week

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

    The Colorado Springs Fire Department chipping crew will be hitting the streets of the Hunters Point, Oak Valley, Comstock, Perfect View and Northface neighborhoods next week to offer chipping services.

    Chipping services are free and are meant to grind up the refuse of wildfire mitigation. So, if you’ve cut down any trees, shrubbery or trimmed branches all in the name of wildfire mitigation, sign up for the chipper.

    Go here to sign up for chipping services. If you’d like to know if your home is in a wildfire danger zone, check out this map. You can also call 719-385-7342 to set up a chipping appointment and ask questions.



  • Prescribed fires not an option this year for some plains communities

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

    A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled upon a video series by The Great Plains Fire Science program, which promoted using prescribed burns in grasslands to restore their ecosystems.

    Prescribed burns are, it turns out, a great conservation tool promoted by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).  I started looking into whether or not plains communities in Colorado use prescribed burns and Sharon Pattee, who commented on the blog post,  helped me look into the practice. Pattee is the Fountain-based director of the Upper Arkansas River Watershed, part of the Colorado Association of Conservation Districts.

    Although recent rains have relieved a persistently severe drought across Colorado, the entire state is still experiencing unusual drought conditions, particularly the southeast corner. So, this could be an especially dangerous time to run a prescribed burn. 

     Screen Shot 2013-05-14 at 2.01.25 PM

    And this year the drought has had an unfortunate “domino” effect on several conservation practices, among them prescribed burns,  Pattee wrote me in an email. Pattee also contacted LeRoy Hall, an NRCS conservationist based out of Greeley, to ask about prescribed burning this year. The area uses limited prescribed burns, and Hall has been trying to train specialists to create intricate prescribed burning plans. But, the drought has forestalled any training plans, as no one will be burning in state or federal lands just now.

    Take another look at The Great Plains Fire Science video series.






  • Wildfire bills pass Colorado Senate, House

    Thu, May 9, 2013 by Ryan Handy with no comments

    Three bills meant to blunt the force of catastrophic wildfire in Colorado have made it through the state Senate and House, and now await Gov. John Hickenlooper’s signature. Here’s a round up of all three.

    Senate Bill 273

    This bill made it through the Senate last week and targets the Colorado State Forest Service, and how the agency interacts with community wildfire protection plans and the disposal of biomass.

    The forest service is already actively involved in both of these things–the bill would made some subtle changes. I am still waiting to hear back from the forest service regarding the fine print changes to what they do.  Currently, the forest service must sign off on any community wildfire protection plans.

    The bill suggests that the forest service and communities do a few other things to manage wildfire risk, according to bill documents:

    • encourages “the use of forest biomass for energy generation and material for forest industry development will
      reduce the risk of future catastrophic wildfires, benefit the state’s economy”
    • “directs the state forest service to collaborate with federal agencies to facilitate the use of forest biomass as feedstock for timber mills and other industries and for renewable energy generation”
    • “encourages a community that adopts or updates its community wildfire protection plan (CWPP) to incorporate, as part of the

      CWPP, a biomass utilization plan developed in consultation with the state forest service”

    Read the entire bill.

    Senate Bill 270

    This bill focuses on reallocating state funds to help with a wildfire disaster. It would allow the governor and the Division of Fire Prevention and Control to move money from the Disaster Emergency Fund to the Wildfire Emergency Response Fund during a wildfire emergency.

    Read the entire bill.

    Senate Bill 269

    This bill would set up a grant program to fund fuel reduction projects. The grant program would give up to 25 percent of the funds needed for each project. All told, $10,300,000 would be set aside for the grant program.

    Read the entire bill.