July 09--Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was back on familiar turf Monday and delivered a message of hope -- but also issued a warning.
Salazar, Colorado's former U.S. Senator and Colorado College graduate, toured the Waldo Canyon fire scar, met with state and local officials, and received a briefing on ongoing firefighting and recovery efforts.
Salazar was joined by other government and fire officials in a joint press conference at Centennial Hall.
"We're at the beginning of efforts to restore these communities and watershed areas back to where they need to be," Salazar said. "The fire will be out very soon but there's a lot of work left for revitalization and restoration. There's a short-term emergency stabilization plan and a long-term plan. To do it effectively, it's important to bring everybody in -- Pikes Peak (Area) Council of Governments, the mayors of the towns, the county commissioners."
Salazar assured the federal government will assist in recovery efforts.
"We're here to stay," he said. "The President has directed the government to do everything possible to help. We won't leave any stone unturned."
Salazar said he was impressed with people he met whose homes had been destroyed by the fire.
"I know this community is very resilient," he said. "I talked to people sifting through the ashes. I learned from them that a great community will rise from these ashes."
On display was a draft of the "soil burn severity map," which should be finalized by Tuesday, said Marc Stamer, who is leading the Forest Service's Burn Area Emergency Response team.
Stame flew into Colorado SpringsJuly 2. Part of his team arrived Thursday and began full-scale study of the burn effects Friday. BAER team scientists help predict what areas face the highest risk of flooding and what treatments are necessary to prevent further disaster, Stamer said.
"This area, without the fire, with its steep slopes and channels funneling water to lower elevations, can have flooding problems," Stamer said. "In '99, Manitou Springs had a flood without a fire event."
Of the 18,247 acres burned -- firefighters have achieved 98 percent containment -- the preliminary map shows approximately 30 percent, about 5,500 acres, in the low soil burn category. Approximately 50 percent of the burn area is in the moderate category and 20 percent is high.
Satellite images usually produce the soil burn map, Stamer said, but "because of the monsoon systems you have and so much smoke we did this one by helicopter flights and by driving through the burn areas."
The low soil burn area is along most of the perimeter -- including the Mountain Shadows neighborhood, Stamer said -- and south of Rampart Reservoir. High burn areas are almost entirely in the Waldo Canyon fire's interior.
As for flooding potential, Stamer said, "We're mostly worried about places with high and moderate soil burn." But, he cautioned, "We'll start looking through models for changing conditions."
"We were seeing high (water) runoff before the fire. So with the rain we're having, we could see high runoff and high potential for floods. With the monsoon system you have here, it depends where the storm cell sits and the level of intensity. People need to pay attention to weather service broadcasts and advance warnings.
"And they shouldn't become complacent. This could occur for three to five years."
FEMA: Buy flood insurance
Mike Byrne, a federal coordinating officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Monday that area residents shouldn't hesitate to buy flood insurance.
"We suggest you get flood insurance now," Byrne said. "Talk to your insurance agents."
A 30-day waiting period normally accompanies flood insurance but a bill signed last week by President Barack Obama could change that.
"On a case-by-case basis we could waive that 30-day requirement," Byrne said.
"Communities beyond those burned areas are who needs flood insurance," said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. "If flooding occurs, it will be going down to Fountain Creek and all the way to the Arkansas River. People in Colorado Springs, El Paso County and Fountain have to maintain a degree of caution."
Contact Bob Stephens: 636-0276 Twitter @bobgstephens
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