“The South Fork of the South Platt River provides an essential water supply to Denver. It passes through pine covered foothills of the Pike National Forest in an area that is normally moderately dry (I believe about 12”-15” moisture a year). It is sheltered by the continental divide, miles to the west.
For years Jeanie and I searched for the property on which we would build our retirement home. The property we finally chose is situated in those foothills just north of the Strontia Springs Reservoir of the South Platte River, less than an hour from most of Denver.
Jeanie and I bought our property in 1995. We were attracted by its beauty and unspoiled solitude. There was a remarkably clear view of several thousand square miles of forests to the south and west. One could clearly see Mt. Evens, the heights of the Lost Creek Wilderness, Pikes Peak, Castle Rock and even DIA through the trees.
The home we built there was the consummation of our vision for retirement come true. We moved to a spectacular site, surrounded by breathtaking vistas, in the peacefulness of natural beauty from the horizons to our very feet. The shear beauty of the natural world was intimately at hand.
There were no visible scars from large forest fires when we bought the property. Devils Head with its fire watch tower lies 10 miles to the south of our property. It is centered in an area of unusually frequent lightning strikes. It is manned in the summer months for good reason. We quickly learned to watch storms moving across in the afternoon and to remember the location of strong lightning strikes. On numerous mornings we spotted the smoke from small single-tree fires and reported them along with our neighbors, often directly to the Pike National Forrest dispatcher in Pueblo. Without exception, over the years, these fires were quickly attended to and put out.
The Buffalo Creek fire was the first of a string of large, scar producing forest fires, all set by people. It was started by a neglected campfire in late 1996. It ran 10 miles in a few hours on a Friday and was contained the following day. It came within about 5 miles of our property. I watched fire fighting from the first small deck we had build on the top of our property. Jeanie and I decided right then to build our home from concrete and steel and make it as fire proof as possible. We equipped it with every possible fire safety feature, many more that were required by code.
Simultaneously, I began an unending program of wildfire mitigation on our property. I learned form my neighbors and the Colorado Forest Service. We cut ladder fuels, chipped and burned slash and worked to increase the crown spacing of the forest below our house. I joined the National Tree Farm and Colorado Forrest Ag Program. I started mitigation, and I never stopped.
The Hayman Fire was willfully started a few years later, some 35 miles to the south-south-west. Its scar lies above the South Fork of the South Platte River and it has exposed large areas to erosion and flooding. It burned to within about 7-8 miles of our property. Runoff from snow and summer thunderstorms after the fire increased siltation and is reported to have reduced capacity of the Strontia Springs Reservoir. Several years after the fire, my wife, Jeanie, and I happened to watch as a particularly severe storm caused flooding. We turned on our scanner and heard the automated flood warning radios and then a sheriff’s deputy report that West Creek was flooding with large debris. He called for backup and for closing the road (Highway 126). Subsequently, some twenty miles of the highway was washed out upstream from the reservoir.
To reduce the potential for forest fire flooding and siltation of the reservoir, the Pike National Forest chose select areas above the South Fork for thinning. To do so, it cut trees and piled the logs. Trailer trucks then hauled them away. Branches and slash were pushed into large piles and burned in mid-winter when there was substantial snow cover. Our house is roughly 10 miles to the north and we had a clear view of much of the area. Jeanie, and I also watched this work from our house through our telescope.
At about the same time that the Pike Forrest was pursuing its plan of wildfire abatement by thinning or “logging”, it seems the Denver water Board decided to thin some of its lands also.
The Denver Water Board owns below lands around Strontia Springs Reservoir, an essential part of Denver’s water supply. The reservoir lies about two miles south of our house and about 2000 feet lower, on the other side of Willow Gulch and Sheep Mountain. To limit the possibility of siltation to its water supply, it was decided to thin the forest. Of the methods available, the one chosen was to thin by mastication. I believe that was the first of a series of profoundly flawed decisions.
Years ago Jeanie and I first heard heavy machinery operating behind a hill. Then one day an unusual red machine appeared. It had tracks and a long arm with spinning teeth at the head. It was designed so that the cab platform remained level regardless of the steepness of the terrain. The operator would hit a tree in the middle, toppling the upper half. He would then lower the spinning head down the trunk causing pieces and shreds to fly in all directions. Then he would move to the top that was lying on the ground and shred it. It seems he shredded about a third to two thirds of the north slopes, leaving a much-thinned stand of trees. We watched all this through our telescope. At the time it seemed to us it seemed like a good idea. We gave no thought to the nature of the material left lying on the forest floor. But it seems that others did.
The fact is that the mastication did not decrease the fuel load of the forest. Dry climate in the subsequent years prevented significant rotting.
It did not decrease danger. Though the crown spacing was increased, I have since learned that the increased spacing is not likely to reduce the risk of a running crown fire. The unique fuels that were the source the Lower North Fork Fire were chopped and splintered branches and trunks resulting from mastication years before. So, those who created these fuels became believe an increasingly urgent need to remove the postential for danger. At that point, a number of courses were available.
The LNNF group’s investigation and conclusions regarding the fire is presented here separately. I have come to believe that the Lower North Fork Burn began as a poorly conceived effort for a controlled burn in order to correct for previous poor judgment. It quickly became a wildly running crown fire with speeds probably well in excess of 50 miles per hour and gas temperatures in the range of 2000 to 3000 degrees. I believe that the investigation of the LNFF will eventually show clearly that the many, many decisions involving concept, planning, decision to ignite, and subsequent efforts to carry out and then extinguish the fire were, one by one, were so egregiously flawed as to constitute unmatched negligence.
That fire was planned, it was started by and it was not contained. It was never controlled. ….by people. Those who were responsible …over time, at many levels. …little people, with spines too feeble to stand and take responsibility.
Then and now they are sheltered. They hide behind each other’s skirts to this day, hoping that time will erase their sins, that some paltry future offering may ease their guilt.
And when cornered they will probably look us straight in the eye, …and with all the specious rightness they can muster, they will heap lie upon lie.
Who are these people? They populate, …in fact, they are of our government. The very government that should be looked to for responsible conduct, to provide the standards, the model for responsible action for us, all its citizens.
But now good, self sufficient, independent people must argue and defend themselves. The burden has been place upon US. We must devote our time and our resource (what little you have left us) toward proving our losses. Yes, you steal our time, which like lives, when taken, can never be replaced.
This did not need to happen. It could have been avoided
Take a single case case: Our close friend lost his home. He lost his wife, the light of his family, his business partner. He lost his business, and all of his business records. He lost his inventory. He is faced with the very real threat of imminent bankruptcy. He is forced to commit what little resources he has left to an attempt to regain what he can. He survives with the support of two admirable sons, a group of close fiends and the charity of an unknown number of truly generous people, charity which he honestly needs yet for which he is deeply embarrassed to receive.
Now think again about this for a moment. That fire was not due to natural causes. It was not due to an accident. It was not just set by people.
IT WAS SET BY THE NEGLIGENCE OF OUR GOVERNMENT.
Friends were killed. Livelihoods were shattered. Property was destroyed.
And it was avoidable. It need NOT have happened.”