This summer's news has brought tales of wildfire catastrophe, including the tragic deaths of nineteen elite "Hotshot" firefighters trapped by a fast-moving blaze in Arizona. But this month there's also good news: In Colorado Springs, Colorado, one neighborhood destroyed in a wildfire last year is coming back strong.
"As unbelievable as it was to witness a massive tornado of fire engulfing a city subdivision, it's almost as stunning to see that same neighborhood one year later," reports the Denver Post ("Waldo Canyon fire: A year later, life returning to normal," by Jeremy P. Meyer). "Few remnants of the Waldo Canyon fire remain in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood where 347 homes were destroyed and two people died June 26, 2012. Rather, a phoenix is rising from the ashes of what was, until this month, the most destructive wildfire in state history. New landscaping, replanted trees and rebuilt homes adorn what had been a hellscape of destruction. Two hundred of the 347 homes have been rebuilt or are under construction."
It's rebuilding with a difference, reports the Colorado Springs Gazette: in the aftermath of the conflagration, reconstructed houses have to conform with a new set of fire codes ("Fire codes have impact on new, old homes after Waldo Canyon fire," by Ryan Handy). "The codes, made a part of city law in December, have affected new homes in hillside neighborhoods across the city," the Gazette reports. "Championed by Colorado Springs Fire Marshal Brett Lacey, the codes ban wood siding and decking, among other things, for homes in the foothills adjacent to forest lands, or the red zone. Some developed areas, too, are slowly changing their construction to adhere to the codes, Lacey said."
The new codes don't apply to existing houses, but some homeowners are choosing to adopt their provisions, the paper says — "such as Mary Ann Collins, who lives on Ashton Park Place and whose home survived, have decided to follow the example of neighbors who are rebuilding. When her wooden siding needed to be replaced, Collins chose to get her house stuccoed even though the codes apply only to new construction and rebuilds, she said in early June."
Meanwhile, it's fire season again in Colorado, where the raging Black Forest fire surpassed last year's Waldo Canyon fire in the record books as the state's most destructive fire ever. And homeowners who lost everything to the Waldo Canyon fire are working to help this year's crop of burned-out homeowners get through the experience, reports FOX21 News in Colorado Springs ("Waldo Canyon families lend a helping hand to Black Forest Fire victims," by Sam Baranowski).
Mountain Shadows resident Carla Albers and her family were able to move into a new home in time for their son's high school graduation this year after losing the family home to the wildfire last year. Now Albers is acting as a mentor to Black Forest fire victims. Albers told the station, "Not very many people, thank goodness, are part of our club of losing everything you have in a catastrophic fire and so I think anytime you go through an event like that you have common ground, you have a common language, we have common experiences. Now, some of us will be able to say we're at the end of that process and you will get there even though it doesn't seem like it today."
Ironically, the Waldo Canyon fire's legacy also includes a long-term risk from another force of nature: water. Where soil has been scorched and plant cover destroyed, heavy rain can bring flash flooding — and that's just what happened in Manitou Springs, Colorado, this week, reported Denver's ABC7 News ("Officials: Waldo Canyon Fire scar poses a 10-year flash flood threat," by Alan Gathright, Lindsey Sablan, and Lance Hernandez).
"Manitou Springs residents were digging out Tuesday after a flash flood in the Waldo Canyon burn area sent a wall of mud and water slamming into homes," the station reported. "Authorities said 20 homes were damaged, including three that were total losses... Home video showed the muddy flood roaring down mountain roads, carrying boulders, logs, cars and other debris with it."