By Michelle Werts

Smoke plume for the Waldo Canyon Fire
Smoke plume for the Waldo Canyon Fire. Credit: Beverly/Flickr

Sometimes, certain regions of the country just can’t catch a break.

Last year, the Colorado Springs area was devastated by the Waldo Canyon Fire, which was the most destructive fire in Colorado’s history until this year’s Black Forest Fire. The Waldo Canyon Fire destroyed more than 300 homes; a year later, approximately 200 of those homes are either already or in the process of being rebuilt. But, unfortunately, this was just the beginning of their woes.

As reported by E&E News, since the containment of the Waldo Canyon Fire, forest managers and hydrologists have been concerned that the damaged landscape left the area extremely vulnerable to flooding. That concern became a reality last week when a flash flood caused by a torrential downpour in the burn-scared Pike National Forest tore through the town of Manitou Springs, killing two people and damaging more than 30 buildings. Many are laying the fault of the flooding directly on the previous year’s fire.

In a normal, healthy forest, the floor is littered with debris that slows coursing water, while tree roots soak up water and slow soil erosion. When those trees have been destroyed in a high-intensity fire, there are no leaves, pine needles and the like littering the forest floor and no roots to slow soil erosion, which creates an unobstructed passage for fast-falling water.

An AmeriCorps crew performs bank stabilization work at the site of the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs, Colo.
An AmeriCorps crew performs bank stabilization work at the site of the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs, Colo. Credit: Mike Stearly/U.S. Forest Service

And the problems don’t end there. Flood waters bring muddy, ash-filled water into watersheds, which affects drinking water. Diane McKnight, co-director of hydrologic sciences at the University of Colorado-Boulder, tells E&E News, “What you often see after these flood events is a legacy impact on water quality. All that ash and sediment finds its way into a stream or a river, and that affects everything, from microorganisms to insects to fish.”

Recognizing the threats and challenges that post-wildfire landscapes and communities face, American Forests Global ReLeaf conducts wildfire restoration projects every year to help restore damaged ecosystems to health. In 2013, a third of our Global ReLeaf projects are dedicated to wildfire restoration — from the mountains of California to the Ozarks and from a remote area of Montana to the forests of Florida. Help us rebuild communities, like those damaged by wildfire.