USA –-The houses that burned to the ground in one Colorado Springs neighborhood were valued at more than $110 million, a Denver Post analysis found. The actual losses are expected to run much higher as families in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood calculate the loss of their possessions, the costs of staying elsewhere and the price of replacing homes built in the 1980s and 1990s.
Although not the deadliest natural disaster in Colorado history, the Waldo Canyon fire ranks first by another measure of destruction.
“Waldo is the worst when it comes to homes lost,” said Bill Convery, state historian with History Colorado.
This year also ranks as the most destructive year in recorded Colorado history for wildfires, he said, with two months of summer remaining.
The Post used El Paso County assessor records to gauge the dimensions of the losses from the Waldo Canyon Fire in charred houses alone. Those records identified the combined market values of 341 of the destroyed homes at $110.2 million.
Officials have said that 347 homes were destroyed in the blaze. However, assessor’s records do not match a handful of the addresses that have been identified by the city as total losses. Fifty other homes suffered visible damage, according to data provided by the city of Colorado Springs.
The assessor records draw a portrait of a hillside neighborhood of mostly middle-class homes built during a decade of growth in Colorado’s second-largest city.
They ranged in value from $155,000 on Mirror Lake Court to $942,000 on Brogans Bluff. The median value, $297,944, suggests the fire consumed a desirable but not wealthy neighborhood.
The list of lost homes also reveals the vicissitudes of a wildfire. On some neighborhood streets, only one house was lost. On a stretch of Majestic Drive, 74 consecutive houses burned.
“I keep hearing words like ‘epic,’ ‘historic,’ ‘unprecented.’ I don’t think that’s an exaggeration,” said Carole Walker, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association. “2012 is the year everyone’s going to remember.”
The association hopes to have preliminary loss estimates next week from the Waldo Canyon fire as well as the High Park fire in Larimer County. Walker called assessor records “a good snapshot at what the market value is,” but noted they do not include “everything from smoke damage, to additional living expenses, the cost to rebuild in today’s dollars and to replace all your personal stuff, your appliances, furniture, antiques, all of those things.”
Jeffrey Lucas will be spending this summer on that task. He and his family lost their home in the 6100 block of Wilson Road, along with almost all their possessions.
Paperwork will consume the weeks ahead. Lucas said his family must document all the belongings they left in the house when they fled the fast-approaching flames.
“We have to try and remember every little thing, like how many pairs of socks I had,” said said. “It is going to take some time.”
He had packed a few bags when the fire first started, but it blazed in too quickly for the family to take anything that wasn’t absolutely needed.
“It’s kind of funny, I guess, because I will think of something I need, like my belt, and realize it’s gone,” he said. “Like, gone-gone.” Nolan Doesken, state climatologist with Colorado State University, said weather conditions were so extreme this year the question was not if wildfires would occur, but when. And how bad. “As we marched into the heat wave,” he said, “conditions couldn’t have been worse.” The mixture of heat, winds and dry wood enabled fires to ignite and spread quickly, he said.
“May and June are typically going to be the worst as there are higher winds and lower humidity,” Doesken said, “but that’s not to say anything is done.”
According to Convery, the historian, the deaths from this wildfire season, while tragic, don’t compare with the numbers of people killed in Colorado’s deadliest disasters.
On Aug. 7, 1904, a train from Denver was crossing the Dry Creek bridge north of Pueblo when a flash flood slammed the bridge, dragging the engine into the water and killing 97 people, he said. And on July 31, 1976, another flash flood in the Big Thompson Canyon killed 143 people, tore houses from the riverbanks and wiped out a stretch of U.S. 34.
In property damages alone, hailstorms still rank as Colorado’s most costly disasters. While a catastrophic wildfire may bring huge claims from hundreds of homeowners, storms in Colorado’s Front Range the heart of “Hail Alley” can bring smaller claims from tens of thousands of people for damaged roofs and cars.
In 2009, summer hailstorms caused losses exceeding $1.1 billion in the Denver metro area.
Before this year, the most expensive wildfire in Colorado history was the Fourmile Canyon fire in 2010. It burned 169 homes in the Boulder foothills and brought $217 million in damage claims.