FREMONT COUNTY, Colo. - Recent rainy weather is helping to ease current drought conditions, but is also causing another problem for residents near the Hayden Pass Fire burn scar in western Fremont County.
Neighbors say ash from last summer's fire is washing downstream because of rain and melting snow, leaving a brown tint in Hayden and Cottonwood creeks.
The ash is clogging streams and possibly killing fish, neighbors say.
There also are worries the ash might affect the quality of irrigation water used by farmers and have possible impacts to the Arkansas River, into which the creeks drain.
Michael Trexel has lived in the area for 27 years and said he noticed ash flows resuming a few days ago.
"What I want to know is how having this many ashes flowing into the river for an extended period will affect the river," he said. "This is a popular area for camping and fishing. Fishing is already being affected. Fishermen are staying west of the creek confluences and avoiding the dirtier water to the east."
The confluence of the river and Cottonwood Creek proves Trexel's point, having a distinct brown line separating ash-filled creek water with cleaner river water.
Neighbors have already seen a major ash flow, caused by a storm shortly after the fire last July. The resulting flash flood washed out several bridges on private property and required an extensive cleanup.
"There's still a lot of ash up there," said Rick Romano, an agent with the National Resources Conservation Service. "The key is whether it comes down in one big storm or several smaller storms. It's up to Mother Nature. So far, we're not seeing anything unusual given the major wildfire we had."
Romano said property owners can minimize damage from future ash flows by keeping creek channels clear of debris.
Jim Aragon of Colorado Parks and Wildlife said there have been some fish kills because of ash flows, mainly affecting smaller fish in the creeks, but at current levels the flows pose no serious threat.
"We'll monitor the situation," he said. "It's a natural event, and generally it takes time for the situation to correct itself."
A lightning strike sparked the 16,000-acre fire. Only one structure was damaged but some residents had to evacuate for at least a week.