Colorado

Victims of this year's most devastating fires in Colorado continue to receive rehabilitation technical assistance.

They are not only trying to recover from the effects of the fires, but now are surveying damage caused by recent rainstorms. June 12 brought fierce fires to Colorado's Front Range, engulfing more than 22,000 acres and damaging more than 50 homes and structures. Since Aug. 16, intermittent rainstorms have sparked minor flash floods. Showers occurring within 15- to 20-minute time spans have dropped from one-tenth to three-fourths inch with each passing storm.

"Short intensive rains are exactly what we didn't need," said Tom Weber, Natural Resources Conservation Service Hi Meadows fires rehabilitation team leader. "So far, these rains aren't as bad as they could have been and are nowhere close to the rain storms we encountered after the Buffalo Creek fires of 1996, but they still did their fair share of damage. We have seen sediment flows as a result of gully erosion on unprotected areas."

As a result of the recent conditions, NRCS has constructed small check dams, constructed of rocks, in selected drainage ways to protect nearby homes, and dug a trench to divert and drain surface flow to protect road access.

"Although we didn't need intensive down pours, we did need some moisture to help the progress of our fire rehab efforts," Weber went on to say. "The upper two to three inches of topsoil are moist, as a result of the recent showers, and our seeding drop is beginning to sprout, especially the white oats."

The first phase of the rehabilitation efforts involved cleaning debris, for which there were many volunteers, and seeding intensively burned areas. The wave of community support for the fire victims sparked the development of a "Volunteer Day." The sponsors of the Hi Meadows rehab efforts organized the volunteer efforts in conjunction with Governor Owens "Colorado Cares Volunteer Day" and July 29 more than 150 people, including the governor, came out to participate in the "Colorado Cares--Hi Meadows Rehabilitation Volunteer Day. Volunteers and contributors came from various organizations, including Girl Scouts, Mile High Council, Conifer Community Church, American Red Cross Youth Corps, Conifer High School, Jefferson County Library and many more.

NRCS, the U.S. Forest Service, Jefferson, Park-Teller and Big Thompson Soil Conservation Districts and other contributors sponsored the seeding on more than 2,800 acres of private land and 4,000 acres of public land, which were intensely burned. In the Hi Meadows are (where most of the damage occurred on private land), some 114,000 pounds of seed, including a mixture of Western wheatgrass (native), slender wheatgrass (native), little bluestem (native) and hard fescue (introduced), were dropped. White oats, a sterile grain also was dropped, because of its ability to grow quickly and provide cover.

The next phase of the rehabilitation effort by NRCS is well underway and is expected to be complete by September. "The rehab crew is working 25 to 30 acres per day," said Ed Spence, NRCS soil conservationist. "We will continue contour felling, trenching, staking trees on side slopes and directional felling (cutting ) of charred trees in the drainage ways to slow down runoff."

"Progress is being made. I am just glad we had a program to help people through these devastating times," said Stephen Black, NRCS state conservationist. "We were able to utilize our Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP) to provide some relief to these victims."

EWP is a cost-share program designed to relieve imminent hazards to life and property caused by hurricanes, floods, fires, windstorms and other natural occurrences. The program allows for the installation of repairing of conservation measures that control flooding and prevents soil erosion as needed to protect life and property. Conservation measures may include seeding, tree felling repairing sediment basins and road covert protection. Through the program, federal funds may cover up to 75% of the construction costs of eligible emergency measures. The individual landowner, through the EWP project sponsor, is responsible for remaining 25%, of which in-kind services may be accepted.

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