As firefighters battle blazes in Fremont and Jackson Counties, concern grows about aftermath

Monsoons expected to bring mudslides
Posted at 12:14 AM, Jul 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-20 02:14:45-04

CANON CITY, Colo. -- Major wildfires continue to burn in Fremont and Jackson Counties.

The Hayden Pass Fire, near Coaldale, has consumed 16,414 acres and the Beaver Creek Fire, Northwest of Walden, has burned in excess of 25,431 acres.

While firefighters battle both blazes, there is growing concern about the aftermath, especially in Fremont County, where ash and debris from the burn zone will eventually make its way into the Arkansas River.

While many people conjure up images of Manitou Springs, which suffered major flood damage several times following the Waldo Canyon Fire in 2013, authorities say the big population areas in Fremont County are farther downstream and in much broader valleys.

Still, Canon City’s Water Superintendent said, if there is a significant rainstorm, they may have to shut-off the water treatment plant’s intake valves, until the ash and debris from the storm has washed by.

Bob Hartzman said the city uses about 8-million gallons of water a day during the peak summer months, so they can only shut down the intake valves for a couple of days.

The Superintendent said if the debris flow lasts longer than that, they’ll have to reopen the valves and let the polluted water sit in settling ponds before it’s treated.

“We may have to use additional chemicals,” he said, “like chlorine.”

Hartzman told Denver7 the same thing happened three years ago, during the Royal Gorge Fire.

He said you can still see evidence of debris flows in some of the tributaries to the Arkansas River.


Fish Saving Operation

Parks and Wildlife officials are also concerned about ash and debris.

On Wednesday, they plan to capture 1,000 Greenback Cutthroat Trout from Hayden Creek near Coaldale.

The fish would otherwise be doomed, if heavy amounts of ash got washed into the creek.

“It’ll be a dangerous operation,” said Parks & Wildlife spokesman Kyle Davidson. “Many of the nearby trees are burned and could fall over.”

Davidson told Denver7 that only a small quantity of the pure strain Greenback exist today in Colorado.

He said crews will remove the fish and take them via ATV to a waiting transport truck.

“They’ll be taken to a nearby hatchery where we can preserve and study them,” he said.


Recreation Impact

The Hayden Pass Fire is three times larger than the 2013 Royal Gorge Fire, but isn’t expected to have as big an impact on the recreation industry.

There are several rafting companies in the Canon City area.

The general manager of Echo Canyon River Expeditions told Denver7 that any ash that comes down the river will be temporary.

He said most of the rain comes in the afternoon, and that by the time the debris flow reaches the prime rafting areas, the outfitters will be wrapped up for the day.

“The good thing about the monsoon rain and the surges of water we’ll see come out of the side creeks is that they’re very short lived,” Ben Sack said.  “The Arkansas River is very resilient… when we see the additional sediments in the river, it tends to filter out, sometimes within a few hours.”


Beaver Creek Fire

In Jackson County, Commission Chairman Jim Murphy said the Beaver Creek Fire is burning far enough away from the North Platte River that he doesn’t anticipate any problems.

He said if there are mudslides, they’ll likely be on Forest Service property.