2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • Government report says USFS has some homework to do

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

    A Government Accountability Office report released Tuesday found that the U.S. Forest Service has failed to justify its need for more firefighting aircraft, because it hasn’t researched the efficiency of its planes and what they do.

    For more on the report, read this article I wrote in today’s paper.

    Click here to read the actual GAO report.

  • 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?




  • That smoke in the air!

    Fri, August 16, 2013 by Ryan Handy with no comments

    We thought fire season was done (mostly) but really it has just moved north. The season typically starts in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, and by mid-season or late summer has moved up into the Pacific northwest or Montana.

    Now, fires from those areas are hazing the Colorado horizon. Take a look at the latest smoke map to see where the smoke is drifting from:

    Screen Shot 2013-08-16 at 9.21.43 PM


    The purple splotches indicate where the smoke is the heaviest.

    To check daily smoke updates, visit this link. 

  • 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.

  • What a 50-year-old burn scar looks like

    Mon, July 8, 2013 by Ryan Handy with no comments

    No two wildfire burn scars are exactly alike, and how burned lands recover can depend upon how they are rehabilitated. 

    While I was hiking in Taos, New Mexico this weekend I came across an old burn scar, from the Vinateria fire in 1967, that shocked me: From faraway, it looked barely regrown, after 46 years.

    The landscape in the area was rugged, rocky, and dry. The forest was piñon. I haven’t been able to find out any information about the actual fire itself, but I doubt there was much done to rehabilitate the land, such as the Coalition for the Upper South Platte has done for  the Waldo Canyon fire burn scar.

    Take a look at the burn scar, only a small portion (to the right of the sign):



    And here’s a closer look:

    Screen Shot 2013-07-08 at 2.55.36 PM


  • 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.

  • Yarnell Fire becomes one of the deadliest in history for firefighters

    Mon, July 1, 2013 by Ryan Handy with no comments

    Bill Gabbert, author of the blog “Wildfire Today” and a former wildland firefighter,  put together a look at the deadliest fires in history, to help readers put the Yarnell Fire in perspective.

    Deaths while fighting wildland fire, sadly, are not uncommon. But Gabbert points out that the number of firefighters who died in Arizona, 19, is a tragic, rare occurrence.

    But as many as 19 being killed at one time has not happened since October 3, 1933, when 25 firefighters were entrapped and killed while fighting a fire in Griffith Park in Los Angeles. The only other incident with more than 19 wildland firefighter fatalities occurred on the “Big Blowup Fires” of August 21, 1910 when 72 firefighters died in Idaho.

    Gabbert’s blog post gives a round-up of the deadliest fires in history, using data from the National Interagency Fire Center.  The Storm King Mountain incident, which killed 14 smokejumpers near Glenwood Springs in 1994 is on the list.

    Read Gabbert’s post here.

    Also, read this post to learn more about what happens when firefighters are trapped by flame.


  • Mountain Shadows celebration on Wednesday

    Tue, June 25, 2013 by Ryan Handy with no comments

    Mountain Shadows residents will be getting together on Wednesday to celebrate the rebirth of Mountain Shadows, the community hit by the Waldo Canyon fire last summer. The community event, which has been in the works for months, is also a tribute to the Black Forest fire survivors, who are welcome to attend.

    Several things will be going on, including dinner, and live music. The park will be the eventual site of the Mountain Shadows Park memorial, dedicated to Bill and Barbara Everett, who died in last summer’s fire.

    Food will be provided by Flying W Ranch–the ranch’s classic chuck wagon dinner. There will be live music from the Flying W Wranglers, the Colorado Springs Philharmonic, Mango fan Django (gypsy jazz), and the  Colorado Springs  Children’s Chorale.

    The show starts at 6 p.m. and ends at 10 p.m. Those residents who live nearby are encouraged to bike or walk to Mountain Shadows Park,  at Flying W Ranch Road between Ramsgate and Champagne Drive. Those who drive can park at the Verizon building, Garden of the Gods Rd. and 30th St, and take a free shuttle to the park.