Saga Of A Wildfire: Part 2

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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Post Wildfire Problems

In the first part of this series regarding the Colorado Spring wildfire I related the experience of going through evacuation and the wildfire itself. This segment will deal with the aftermath once we returned to our home and what follows.  It has been 10 weeks since we were able to return to our home and now we are dealing with the lingering after effects of the wildfire. While our property and structures are thankfully intact the area around us is totally and completely destroyed (see photo).

Soot And Ash Irritation:

When the wind blows, which it does frequently, the ash and soot blow around in clouds that sting our eyes and choke us. The wildfire burned so intensely hot that in much of the area it burned the nutrients out of the soil 3-4” deep, so there is nothing growing to keep it from being blown around. We keep our windows closed but it still invades our home and settles on everything. We dust daily and 10 weeks later the dust cloth still comes away black from the ash and soot. We can feel it on our skin and it is gritty on our teeth. It burns our eyes and our voices are raspy. Ballpoint pens don’t write well as this fine dust adheres to paper. It accumulates in the carpet and we are frequently shampooing the carpeting to get it out.  

Soot And Ash Infiltrates Everything:

The water that puddled up on the tarp was mostly black. Our deck and sidewalk are black or dark grey from the soot and ash. There is abundant soot and ash to keep blowing on the wind for a very long time. Rarely have we looked forward to snow as we have this year. Electronics do not function as well due to the soot infiltrating inside them.  Soot/ash is attracted to any heat source like refrigerator or freezer motors/elements and they too need more regular cleaning.

Lingering Odor:

Beyond the annoyance of the never ending fine soot/ash that permeates every nook and cranny in the house we still have the smell outside especially when it becomes wet or damp. There is little doubt  that these problems will persist long after the snow melts next spring.

Increase Risk Of Flash Flooding And Avalanche:

While our prior concern was wildfire our new concern is the spring run off that will wash all that ash and soot and dead trees down the mountain. The wildfire also burned over the top of the mountain and all that is left now is black ash/soot where there were once healthy trees and ground vegetation. Once the snow season starts and the snow accumulates the sun will penetrate the snow and when it reflects off the blackened ground it will generate heat and possibly form a teflon type surface that could facilitate avalanches.

More Physical Hazards:

Working outside is hazardous as many trees are burned off at the base and only a small stem of wood is holding them up. The trees are prone to fall unexpectedly when the wind strikes them from the right direction. Ash pits also exist where trees and roots have burned down into the ground and formed holes covered with ash that can injure a leg if you accidentally stepped into one. 

Bureaucratic Requirements:

In addition to going through a wildfire the magnitude of the Spring wildfire, the problems of dealing with post bureaucratic requirements are what some have discovered as the second trauma. State, federal and county requirements are that ash has to be removed from a home site in 6 mil plastic bags or the landfill won’t accept it. They also suggest a licensed contractor trained in hazardous waste removal to perform the disposal. On top of this they want all metal roofing washed on site before it is removed. They are still debating how to dispose of cement blocks or cement.

Bureaucracy And Common Sense Are Not Always Compatible:

The concern is asbestos, lead paint and other hazardous waste. Asbestos was prohibited in 1972 and homes built in this community were built years after it had been banned. Bureaucrats do not understand that kind of logic or reasoning and stick to their regulations whether they make sense or not. Most homeowner insurance policies I am familiar with only allow 5% of the coverage on the dwelling for debris removal. Hence a $200,000.00 home would only have available $10,000.00 for debris removal. Asbestos testing and core samples prior to debris removal are far more expensive than normal debris removal due to the special handling required.    

Bureaucracy – Help Or Hindrance?

It seems to me that the bureaucrats would want to help those victims of a wildfire rather than hinder them or impede their rebuilding. Common sense and logic do not seem to dovetail into bureaucratic policy. I would also think that they would not want the environment degradation to be unnecessarily be drawn out and not impede the cleanup with bureaucratic red tape.  /p>

Revised Evacuation List:

Hopefully our personal experience and observations from going through a wildfire will enable others to revise  their evacuation planning and give them a heads up regarding the aftermath. We discovered that when given a short time to evacuate our pre-arranged items to take with us were not as realistic as we thought they would be. We didn’t take nearly enough clothes and our toiletry kit lacked several items. Evacuation items need to be more carefully evaluated if we are ever forced to evacuate again in the future.

Unforeseen Problems:

Our smart phones and computers did not work because the cell towers burned down along with the transmitting stations. We were without internet or cell coverage for several days post evacuation before it was finally restored. There were many false rumors going around and to have accurate information when you are out of your home and far from the daily briefings having working communication is very important.


In summary: Having a good well thought out and accurate evacuation plan is essential but when you are rushing to evacuate and in a mild panic it is easy to overlook some things and grab others that are not really needed. There are service agencies usually available to assist evacuees and I would suggest that they be utilized as they are a stabilizing force during a chaotic time. This blog has been written to provide insight into what can be expected if impacted by a wildfire. We made mistakes in pre-planning and did not account for the panic experienced when having to leave our home suddenly. For us nothing went exactly as planned but our planning was flawed from the start however it went better than having no plan.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their lifestyle in mountain living and experiences visit their personal blog site

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