Arapaho National Forest still recovering one year after Williams Fork Fire

The Williams Fork Fire on the night it broke out on Aug. 14 in the Arapaho National Forest. US Forest Service officials gave a recovery update on the one year mark of the fire.
Eli Pace/For Sky-Hi News

One year after the start of the Williams Fork Fire the US Forest Service continues to restore the Arapaho National Forest and officials have ordered the help of a Community Mitigation Assistance Team to address wildfire risk management in the future.

Saturday marked the first anniversary of the Williams Fork Fire, which burned 14,833 acres in the Arapaho National Forest about 15 miles southwest of Fraser near the Henderson Mill. The fire burned for over 100 days, including after it received a foot of snow. Its cause remains under investigation.

On Friday, Forest Service officials and the Grand County Wildfire Council partnered to request a Community Mitigation Assistance Team, which will provide research on the Sulphur Ranger District’s fire risks and how best to mitigate them.

According to the Forest Service, the Williams Fork Fire was unusual in its late season start, the length of the burn and its reach into the high alpine terrain along the Continental Divide. Prior to the start of the East Troublesome Fire in October, the Williams Fork was the largest fire in the Arapaho National Forest’s history.

Recovery work began with more than 254 miles of repair work, including restoring hand lines and dozer lines. The work is ongoing, such as cleaning culverts, clearing ditches, installing rolling dips for culvert drainage relief and out-sloping the road in the Williams Fork area.

Roads and trails cleared of hazard trees and debris range from the entirety of 141.1 Kinney Creek Road, 140 Keyser Creek Road, 140.3 Keyser Ridge Road, M140 Keyser Ridge Loop, M145 Richey Creek and M146 No-See-Um, to portions of trails like N22 Kinney Creek, which was cleaned up to the wilderness boundary, and Darling Creek, which has been cleared for the first mile and a half.

“Unfortunately, the monsoon season created some setbacks, with major road damage occurring on the upper section of Kinney Creek Road,” said Acting District Ranger Kevin McLaughlin. “We are doing our best to open roads and trails when restoration work is complete, and it is safe to do so.”

Volunteers from the Rocky Mountain Conservancy Corps Program and Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, as well as assistance from the Headwaters Trails Alliance, have been key to reopening the forest, according to McLaughlin.

In addition to clearing roads and trails, the Forest Service is facilitating aerial mulching, water monitoring and utility infrastructure efforts. This work is happening in partnership with Grand County, the Colorado Office of Emergency Management, Denver Water, United States Geological Survey, Coalitions and Collaboratives, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Henderson Mill and Colorado State Forest Service, in addition to other landowners.


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