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June marks 15th anniversary for Hayman burn scar

2002 wildfire remains Colorado's largest

June marks 15th year since Hayman fire

TELLER COUNTY, Colo. - Before nearly 1,000 homes burned in the 2012 Waldo Canyon and 2013 Black Forest fires, the 2002 Hayman fire was the one that most stood out to southern Coloradans -- and still does.

The Hayman remains the largest wildfire in state history.

KRDO NewsChannel 13 recently sent its drone above the Hayman burn scar north of Woodland Park to capture exclusive and fascinating images of the scope of destruction.

Local experts say even after 15 years, the area hasn't recovered as quickly as the Waldo scar because it didn't receive as much attention immediately after the fire.

The Hayman fire burned almost 138,000 acres of forest in June 2002 and spread quickly, affecting four counties -- including Park and Teller counties in the Pikes Peak Region.

By comparison, the Waldo Canyon fire burned 18,000 acres.

The destruction seems endless on the Hayman scar.  The fire turned practically every tree, shrub and blade of grass to smoke or charred debris.

Erosion and flooding from the fire threatened Cheeseman Reservoir, a major part of Denver's water supply.

"This is the fire I came to and cried," said Carol Ekarius, director of the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, a nonprofit agency that oversees forest wildlife recovery.

Ekarius said the U.S. Forest Service has planted 1 million trees on the scar since the fire.

Volunteer groups still have work to do there, such as using fallen trees as erosion barriers to protect the fragile soil, reduce flooding and restore vegetation.

"Hayman keeps having flooding issues and problems, so we're going into that area and doing another project that's going to stabilize Horse Creek and some of the drainages," Ekarius said.

Ekarius said she expects the Waldo Canyon scar to look better on its 15th anniversary than Hayman does now. 

"But it's still not going to look like the forest everyone remembers," she said.

Contributing to the relatively slow recovery rate on both scars, Ekarius said, is the ponderosa pine forests evolved to handle grass fires instead of infernos that wiped out entire stands of trees, and the amount of time required for planted trees to grow.

"The little trees that we did plant, they take about 40 years to put on their first seed crop," she said.

Except for birds, animals are not easily seen on the Hayman scar.

"Wild turkeys come back better," Ekarius said.  "Bighorn sheep come back better.  But other creatures, such as squirrels, don't come back as well.  They like that more dense forest.  So it's been a mixed bag."

Nearby cabin owner Ryan Van Danyew sees other signs of progress.

"They're doing an amazing job of restoring the waters and the fish in Cheeseman and the South Platte (river)," he said.  "They went through a massive restoration project with restocking the water, and it is by far some of the best fishing in Colorado."

Hayman also serves as a warning to residents near other recent wildfires.

"We're actually helping down in the Junkins, Hayden Pass and Beulah (burn scars)," Ekarius said.  "Understand that for the first three to five years at least, (they) are going to have significant flooding."

Hayman continues to serve as Colorado's strongest example of the destruction -- and the long, expensive recovery -- that can result from a fire.

Wednesday night at 10 p.m. in the final part of our series on the impact of local burn scars, we'll investigate why the popular Waldo Canyon Trail hasn't reopened after the fire.

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