Contributed by Emily Larson, Environmental Risk Assessor, TRC Companies (Consulting)
While it is with a heavy heart that we found ourselves gathered again to discuss another historic fire event in the Front Range, the Colorado Riparian Association brought the community together for an informative discussion on fire behavior, community engagement, and water quality impacts from the Marshall Fire. On February 17, 2022, CRA colleagues, environmental professionals and passionate community members gathered at Upslope Brewing Company in Boulder to engage with four speakers within the community including:
- Nate Goeckner- Project Manager for the Boulder Watershed Collective (BWC),
- Bret Gibson- Four Mile Fire Department Fire Chief,
- Maya MacHamer- Director of the Boulder Watershed Collective, and
- Cresten Mansfeldt- University of Colorado Professor of Environmental Engineering
Nate kicked off the discussion with the ecological aspects of the Marshall Fire: the grassland fire behavior that typically results in a slow-burn but was accompanied with extremely high winds. He emphasized the need to better understand the wildland-urban interface and potentially rethink our traditional definition of where this typically occurs and what this means for homeowners. The need to prioritize home hardening and other fire mitigation strategies was also highlighted as a crucial component of fire preparedness moving forward.
It was eye-opening to hear the challenges encountered for one fire department during the emergency response of the Marshall Fire: responding to individual 911 emergency house calls while bypassing enflamed houses on the way. As Chief Gibson took us through the chaos and complexities of the day, it was hard not to feel both emotional and proud of the firefighters’ efforts. The concepts of social responsibility, home hardening, and forest health and mitigation were stressed as proactive and necessary steps to implement in the future.
Maya conveyed the BWC’s outreach initiatives to better understand the knowledge gaps and the pertinent information desired by the community following the Marshall Fire. The goal of the outreach effort was to engage the community and obtain feedback to better learn how to serve the environmental community regarding the fire. The survey found that residents were eager to learn how the public lands would be managed moving forward, and how local water, air and soil quality were affected by the Marshall Fire. The BWC plans to develop educational webinars, as well as provide additional information on ways to adapt to current and future climate realities on the Front Range.
Finally, Cresten described his research on the interface between the built environment and the natural environment and his recent sampling efforts immediately following the Marshall Fire. Cresten’s research helps inform what happens after a fire and identifies chemical signatures or fingerprints in environmental media to better understand the potential effects on the nearby flora and fauna. While many people view the Marshall Fire as strictly a grassland fire, Cresten explained that it also behaved similarly to a wildland/forest fire, citing the alarming statistic that one single-family home roughly equals 2-3 acres of forested land or the equivalent of 30 full-grown pine trees. Finally, Cresten also commended the heroic efforts of the Superior and Louisville wastewater treatment plant operators who helped provide enough water to fight the fires.
Overall, the event was engaging and enlightening and was shared over cold beverages and warm smiles. I am hopeful that the continued conversation among community members, with support from organizations like CRA and BWC, will remind us of the importance of fire preparedness and doing what we can to mitigate future tragedies like the Marshall Fire.