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Effort under way to protect fish hatchery from debris flows

Dennis Webb

A nearly half-million-dollar effort to protect the Glenwood Springs State Fish Hatchery from the threat of mudflows should be completed next week.

The hatchery is located up Mitchell Creek, in a valley that was hard-hit by the Coal Seam Fire, which roared into Glenwood Springs June 8 and destroyed 29 homes.

A 20-person hand crew is placing contour straw wattles to stabilize soil on the east side of the creek above the hatchery, an interagency mud/flood team formed by Garfield County Sheriff Tom Dalessandri reported Wednesday. The wattles will divert runoff that otherwise could flow into the hatchery, which is home to native Colorado cutthroat trout.

Also, the Bureau of Land Management will be undertaking aerial mulching and seeding in connection with the fire at a cost of $2.5 million, in addition to mulching on the ground.

The interagency team also reported that the Forest Service has completed placement of Remote Area Weather Stations, called RAWS for short, in the Mitchell Creek area. The stations can provide real-time data on weather conditions, providing valuable warning time for significant flooding and debris flows that could result within 15 minutes after rainfall begins.

Some 200 homes and businesses are considered to be in the potential path of mudflows that could result from the fire, and a plan is in place to evacuate them on short notice.

Participating agencies also are monitoring noxious weed growth in the 12,200-acre area burned by the fire. And, they are consulting with Ute tribes regarding sacred sites within the area.

Meanwhile, the team reported, Gould Construction has been retained to remove major debris and fallen trees from the Mitchell Creek area. Ironically, the debris is being hauled to the South Canyon landfill, near where the fire started.

The Natural Resource and Conservation Service has taken the lead in removing floatable debris, culvert cleaning, and evaluating and designing structure protection, including placement of jersey barriers, which now number some 5,000 along the projected path of the mudflow. It also is lending a big hand in aerial mulching and seeding.

The NRCS is spending about $2 million in the rehabilitation of the burned areas. Efforts by the BLM, which experienced the bulk of the fire damage, are expected to cost more than $3.6 million.

Altogether, a fire that is expected to cost $8 million to suppress and that caused $6.4 million in county-assessed damages will require an estimated $5.7 million to rehabilitate.

Also Wednesday, rain helped some in the fight against the Spring Creek Fire north of New Castle, and crews continued to get the upper hand on a second nearby fire.

The rain hit the south side of the Spring Creek Fire but missed the north side, which has proven more difficult to contain due to rugged terrain. The rain also missed the East Meadow Creek Fire.

The Spring Creek Fire is 80 percent contained, and its size remained at about about 13,500 acres over the course of the day Wednesday.

Containment of the 93-acre East Meadow Creek Fire is believed to have increased from Tuesday’s 50 percent level, but a new estimate was not yet available, said fire spokesman Clint Trebesh.

He said crews finished line construction there, and also are relying on natural barriers to keep the fire in check.

Crews did some burnout operations on that fire Wednesday and planned to do a little more today, to reduce the amount of unburnt fuel between the fire and fire line. Hand crews, helicopters and heavy equipment are assigned to the fire.

It has threatened no structures at this time, but forced the closure of the Meadow Lake Campground.

On the Spring Creek Fire, there continues to be some tree torching and spotting on the north side, Trebesh said. Crews plan to continue today with mopup work on the fire’s north and east sides.

The crews are working on hotspots 200 feet within the fire line perimeter.

Crews have been aided in their effort by a specialized type of equipment called a Proteus. A cross between a logging skidder and a heavy fire engine, it carries 3,100 gallons of water and 100 feet of hose, and can operate downhill on slopes as steep as 60 percent, where conventional fire engines can’t reach.

“It’s been doing a good job,” said Trebesh. “It’s doing what we had hoped for. It’s really been helping out.”

The Proteus is costly and fairly hard to come by, but well-suited for the extreme topography of the Spring Creek Fire, Trebesh said.

“It’s a great machine to get up there in inaccessible terrain and get some good work done.”

Forecasters are calling for more rainfall throughout the week.

“It’s not very good for the burnouts, but we’d rather have the high moisture,” said Trebesh.

Some 260 people are on the Spring Creek Fire, along with equipment that includes five helicopters. The cost of fighting the fire is now estimated at $5.9 million. Earlier reports that the cost had gone well over $6 million were based on a computer glitch that resulted in air support expenses being overestimated, Trebesh said.


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