Hundreds of people gathered Tuesday in the Mountain Shadows community of Colorado Springs to reflect on the past and future impact of the Waldo Canyon wildfire.
The latest in a series of community meetings took place at the Front Range Alliance Church on Centennial Boulevard, not far from where last summer's fire destroyed more than 300 homes.
Authorities and community leaders want residents in and around the Waldo burn scar to remain alert and prepared for an increased possibility of flash floods and mudslides. The risk is 350 percent higher than normal and will remain a concern for the next five to ten years, said Bret Waters, director of Colorado Springs Emergency Management.
Waters said authorities are constantly monitoring the scar and assessing how to heal it and minimize the public threat. He mentioned an update to a flood response plan, and the creation of a flood response task force. He also said an order of 100,000 sandbags will be distributed to homeowners this spring.
Tim Mitros, the city's stormwater manager, said runoff in the burn zone is as much as ten times higher than normal because the fire burned much of the ground vegetation.
"It's more like asphalt now," he said.
Mitros said the major concern is sediment and other debris that could clog the drainage channel and worsen flooding. He said authorities have build structures to catch debris beforehand. Some of those structures, he said, were used during Colorado's 2002 Hayman fire.
The areas at greatest risk for flash floods, authorities said, are U.S. 24 through Ute Pass, Camp Creek and Douglas Creek. Residents in those areas should remain alert to the weather and be ready to seek higher ground if necessary, he said.
Interestingly, Mitros said Mountain Shadows itself is surrounded by drainage channels that give it some protection from flash floods. But he emphasized that any drainage channel can be flooded by debris or particularly heavy rainfall.
A panel of experts told the audience how to be proactive in protecting themselves and their property. Using sandbags, signing up for weather alerts and other warning systems, and reporting structures full of debris, were among the suggestions given to affected homeowners.
Authorities plan to rely on spotters to monitor local weather conditions and provide better real-time information, said Jennifer Stark of the National Weather Service. She said rainfall of no more than a half-inch per hour will be enough to issue a flash flood warning.
The fire and its aftermath has led many residents to buy flood insurance for the first time. Erin May of the National Flood Insurance Program gave a presentation on that topic.
May said homeowners should buy a policy 30 days before the onset of flood damage, and advised that they take out a policy now to ensure coverage by spring. Flood insurance covers a home's foundation and cleanup, she said, but doesn't cover personal items stored in a basement. She recommended that homeowners buy enough coverage to replace at least 80 percent of their losses in a flood.
May said flood insurance polices range from $250 to $450 annually.
Firefighters said during a flash flood, they'll be ready to conduct swift water rescues if necessary. Firefighters said they train for such duty, and recently had practice when they performed 30 rescues during a hailstorm in the Citadel Mall area last year.
Several mudslides and flash floods were reported along U.S. 24 in Ute Pass after heavy rains last summer. Authorities say the immediate impact of those conditions could spread east to Garden of the Gods and Monument Creek.