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Waldo Canyon recovery and investigation at 10 years

Waldo Canyon Fire
Posted at 12:50 PM, Jun 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-23 20:14:28-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — No one knows who started the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire. Getting answers about where the investigation stands now wasn't easy.

We were passed from the US Forest Service to the FBI to the Colorado Springs Fire Department, and finally to the Colorado Springs Police Department.

Here's what we tracked down about the investigation and how long it's really going to take before the canyon recovers.

From a distance splashes of green on the Waldo Canyon burn area appear to have black and gray spikes protruding like needles out of a pin cushion. Ten years since the fire, aspen trees, and oak brush are filling in underneath where the dead remains of pine and fir trees still stand.

“You know I can understand the public wanting to have their Waldo Canyon back as it was,” said U.S. Forest Service District Ranger, Carl Bauer.

Waldo Canyon was a rural hiking experience just miles from Colorado Springs. For tens years it’s been off-limits since wildfire devastated the area.

“With the intensity that we observed here with Waldo, take an exceptional amount of time to recover,” said Bauer who has 30 years of experience with forest management.

Tens of thousands of trees, also brush, and grasses were killed. In spots where the fire burned at its hottest soil was sterilized.

The recovery is cyclical. Grasses typically show up first; they biodegrade and enrich the soil; brush and aspen trees follow; they also enrich the soil and help hold groundwater.

Conifers take the longest to recover. “We planted between 60 and 80 thousand trees here on the burn scar,” said Bauer. Seedlings are planted to help expedite the recovery which is important to flood prevention. Each large tree can prevent as much as a hundred gallons of water from washing toward waterways during major rain events. “All that takes an exorbitant amount of time. We’re talking ten, 50-100 years.”

The planting of seedlings continues even ten years since the fire.

The Waldo Canyon burn area is also an active research site. Teams from multiple universities looking into better fire prevention and recovery methods.

As for answers to the cause of the wildfire, Bauer said the U.S. Forest Service in not leading the investigation. In general, he said, “Have determined the cause as well as the location of the initial start.” You can still find signs near the burn area asking for information from anyone who may know something that could lead to a suspect.

Colorado Springs Police Department is now the lead agency for the investigation. A written response to a request asking about the status of the investigation said, “The case is now a cold case and that team will be working on it.”

The old trailhead to the canyon remains blocked and will likely not return as an access point to the canyon. There are proposals aimed at finding a new route.

Allowing the public back will require a lot of work. Dangers remain like dead trees that fall without warning.

In terms of nature, ten years is just a start for burn area recovery. Bauer said, “Check back in ten years and I think we’ll see some more, better results.

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