On June 23, 2012, the Waldo Canyon Fire ignited west of Colorado Springs. After taking 2 lives, burning 346 homes, forcing the evacuation of 32,000 people, and consuming over 18,000 acres of private and public land, the fire was contained on July 18th. The fire directly affects five major watersheds – Headwaters of Fountain Creek; Cascade Creek-Fountain Creek; Camp Creek/Garden of the Gods; West Monument Creek and Lower Monument Creek. The Waldo Canyon Fire was one of the most destructive fires in Colorado history and will continue to impact communities for many years to come.
After the devastation of the fire, communities around the burn scar are now grappling with post-fire flooding, water quality degradation, and ecological impacts. Erosion, debris flows, and fast-moving stormwater are major concerns for public safety, property damage, and environmental impacts. These concerns are magnified by the terrain, geology, and close proximity of communities to the burn scar. Steep hillslopes, multiple canyons, and highly erosive soils contribute to water and debris flows that threaten downstream communities and damage the landscape. Communities in and below the burn scar have experienced significant flooding and damage to vital transportation and water infrastructure. The threat of flooding around the burn scar will continue to be elevated for years to come.
- The Flying W Ranch, an iconic destination on the west side of Colorado Springs, was devastated by the Waldo Canyon Fire. CUSP has worked with the ranch and many other private and public partners to restore the land and protect communities below.
- Communities below the burn scar have experienced extreme post-fire flooding. CUSP has been actively working with communities and homeowners to protect property and plan for flooding since shortly after the fire.
- CUSP volunteers place Log Erosion Barriers (LEBs) across the contours of the hillslopes to reduce erosion by slowing water and trapping sediment.
- CUSP volunteers remove debris from Fountain Creek that could otherwise become hazardous and damaging projectiles for those downstream in the event of a flood.
- CUSP volunteers install sandbag walls to protect a home in the path of post-fire flooding and debris flows.
- CUSP volunteers rake and seed burned areas above Colorado Springs to establish ground cover that will help reduce erosion and slow floodwaters headed for neighborhoods below.
- CUSP volunteers install jute matting to reduce erosion and flood risks in Cascade, a community below the burn scar that is vulnerable to increased flood flows.
- CUSP volunteers rake and seed to minimize the impact of heavy equipment on the land during a flood mitigation project designed to help protect Colorado Springs neighborhoods.
- Saplings are planted in areas where the land has made a sufficient recovery to support new trees.
Shortly after the fire was contained, CUSP was enlisted for recovery assistance by staff form the U.S. Forest Service, Colorado Springs Utilities, El Paso County, the City of Colorado Springs, the City of Manitou Springs, and private landowners. Although the Waldo Canyon Fire did not burn in the Upper South Platte Watershed, we felt compelled to assist our neighbors with rehab efforts in connecting watersheds, and to protect a key transportation corridor in and out of our watershed on the southeast side (Highway 24). Recognizing the imminent threat of more flooding and sediment flows, CUSP is working with residents, businesses, and government agencies to protect communities in and below the burn scar. Through collaborative planning with our partners, we are implementing projects that stabilize hillslopes and slow erosion to protect lives, homes, and watersheds. Please see the Waldo Canyon Watershed Assessment of River Stability and Sediment Supply (WARSSS) Report for more detailed information on impacts and project prioritization.