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KRDO brings exclusive look Friday at Spring Creek Fire burn scar in La Veta pass, shows how community, land are recovering

LA VETA, Colo, (KRDO) -- Friday, a KRDO crew was part of a private tour of the worst area damaged by the 2018 Spring Creek Fire in La Veta Pass.

KRDO

That 108,000-acre fire burned thousands of trees, destroyed 141 homes and led to an aftermath of flooding and erosion in western Huerfano and eastern Costilla counties. 

Highway 160 through the pass was closed for several weeks during the fire.

KRDO surveyed the burn scar in Forbes Park, a community managed by a landowners association since 1977 that is south of Highway 160 between La Veta and Fort Garland.

The community covers over 13,000 acres and has more than 3,300 lots; most of the homes destroyed by the fire were located there.

KRDO

One of the victims was Cody Siebert, who is part of the Spanish Peaks Alliance for Wildfire Protection that organized the tour involving around two dozen people from the area.

"We liked the story (KRDO) did recently on wildfire mitigation in Cuchara," she said. "We wanted them to be part of this tour. It's so important to show people the recovery effort and explain what's going on. That's why we formed this group after the fire."

KRDO

Siebert, like most of the original homeowners, did not return to Forbes Park after the fire.

"I still live in the area," she said. "Many of our friends couldn't get back in time to save even their own pets, and that was very heartbreaking. We had all planned to retire here and spend the rest of our lives here -- and in moments, it was gone."

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Several foundations of destroyed homes are still in the community.

Local officials said that they're pleased with the recovery progress, emphasizing that a full recovery remains years or decades away.

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"We've done work to reduce flash flooding and erosion," said Adam Moore, of the Colorado State Forest Service. "Some of the growth is bouncing back nicely. Aspen trees are doing well. Native grasses are thriving because they no longer have to compete with sagebrush that was burned."

KRDO

Some U.S. Forest Service land also was burned, but the agency said that it has done nearly all it can to help the forest recover and prevent or lessen the severity of future fires.

A lingering issue, however, is the large number of burned trees; many remain standing because property owners can't afford to pay for removal, or they believe the trees provide good wildlife habitat.

"Even burned trees can burn again if there's another fire," Siebert said. "All those trees are doing are increasing the odds of another fire happening. People have to realize the importance of proper tree management. If they don't, as we saw in 2018, Nature will do it for you."

Compounding the matter is that there appear to be few viable uses for burned trees.

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"There was a market for them the first two years after the fire," said La Veta Fire Chief Ron Jameson. "After that, bugs get into them and they're no good -- not even for firewood, really. We have only one sawmill in the area. "

Jameson owns a company that has removed trees from more than 200 lots in the park.

OKRD

"There's still a lot more to go," he said. "But there are some mastication machines being used that are grinding the trees into mulch and can be used for ground cover where the soil is bare."

KRDO

Joe Backes, president of the landowners association, said another complication is that many of the lot owners are scattered across the country and around the world.

"They haven't been back even once to assess their properties," he said.

KRDO

The fire's aftermath has created another interesting situation -- young adults are pouring into the park to eagerly buy and rebuild on lots purchased from the previous owners.

"They love it because when you clear the lots, you now have views that were not possible, of Blanca Peak and all the mountain ranges," Backes explained. "They love it."

KRDO

Earlier this year, KRDO reported on wildfire mitigation efforts in the Huerfano County towns of La Veta and Cuchara, south of the burn scar.

Scott Harrison

Scott is a reporter for KRDO. Learn more about Scott here.

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