USA — BLACK FOREST In the neighborhood surrounding Ravine Drive in Black Forest, nothing remains but a monochromatic forest of ash. The trees have been turned black by the inferno. The smell of pine is gone.
At one property, a welcome sign remains, but there is no home to be welcomed to.
Because of the topography, unpredictable wind and other factors working on the flames, some of the record 511 homes destroyed didn’t stand a chance against the Black Forest fire.
“It’s almost mind-boggling to see the area now,” El Paso County sheriff’s spokesman Jeff Kramer said. “It’s almost like being on the moon.”
But officials said common mitigation techniques, or wildfire prevention measures, saved other homes.
El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said the Cathedral Pines area was a textbook example of fire prevention.
“I think they lost one or two homes, but the fire stayed on the ground there,” Maketa said. “Where the fire got up into the trees is where you have the most devastation.”
The houses spared from the flames stood in stark contrast to the lots next door where only chimneys remain.
“There were some areas where the ground was burnt right up to the home,” Kramer said.
It was near those houses that firefighters had hand-to-flame combat.
Signs hung in front of houses reading, “Thank you for your hard work,” and, “Firefighters saved our home.”
Most of Black Forest was deserted Friday except for utility trucks and patrolling fire crews. But children played in the driveways of some of the saved homes.
Skeletons of houses under construction even remain standing.
“The reason the firefighters were able to take a stand was because these homeowners had mitigated their properties,” Maketa said.
Putting rocks around the house, keeping the yard free of vegetation or dead trees, not using mulch and other common fire prevention strategies can keep the flames at bay long enough for firefighters to defend a home.
Officials are pointing homeowners thinking about rebuilding toward programs such as the Black Forest’s Slash-Mulch Program, a Wildfire Mitigation and Recycling Program of the El Paso County Solid Waste Management Division. It educates people on fire prevention and has a facility that can grind trees into mulch.
Safety is a concern as the public is allowed back. The Department of Public Health is giving out masks and Tetanus shots for those sifting through the rubble. There is still utility work to be done, wires are down, and burned trees could be unstable.
“Firefighters call some of these trees widow-makers, because they could look safe but might be rotted on the inside and could just come down on people,” El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn said.
Kramer said Black Forest can be rebuilt, but it will take patience.
“This is a marathon, it’s not a sprint,” he said. “It’s a lengthy process, and it’s gonna take some time.”