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Archive for Sunday, June 23, 2002

Colorado blaze staggering in size

Effect on wildlife remains to be seen

June 23, 2002

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— From Lake George to Roxborough ... the scope of the Hayman fire is astounding. Mind boggling.

It's the largest in Colorado's recorded history, exceeding 100,000 acres.

Early on, as it raged ever larger, at least one firefighter described it as a fire of Biblical dimensions. Indeed, its impacts will be enormous. Incalculable. Almost incomprehensible in their magnitude.

In human terms, at least, the landscape will be forever changed. Entire hillsides of mature trees no doubt were destroyed. They'll not return in our lifetime.

Satellite images and reports from firefighters on the scene indicate some islands of green have survived amid the charred moonscape.

Some areas within the burn should recover fairly quickly, assuming a return to seasons of relatively normal precipitation. New-growth plants are likely to thrive as ashes release nutrients to the soil.

Effects on wildlife, also, must have been uneven. While animals that could escape the fire did, others no doubt perished. The recovery of animals, large and small, will depend on the recovery of the land itself.

Elk may be among the first to reappear, drawn to areas with lush green growth. Future generations of deer may thrive as new growth replaces mature forests.

Populations of small animals are likely to explode, refilling a vacuum created by the fire. Coyotes, bears and other predators would not be far behind.

Impacts along the South Platte River may be more severe, with ash and vast quantities of eroded sediment washing into tributaries and the main river stem.

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