Douglas County's Emergency Management Center is reviewing the recent Chatridge 2 blaze near Highlands Ranch after the quick-spreading flames caused one of the biggest local wildfires in recent years.
The fire, which started in an unincorporated area of Douglas County south of Highlands Ranch, was first called in at about 9:50 a.m. June 29. Early, for a brush fire.
Within 20 minutes, firefighters reported it had spread from one acre to 10, EMC director Tim Johnson said.
“It was a very hot, windy, dry day,” Johnson said.
Before long, the flames had spread even more and became a threat to homes in the BackCountry community in southern Highlands Ranch. At about 11 a.m. residents were ordered to evacuate as smoke closed in on the neighborhood.
“It was really inconvenient; it was really scary,” resident Ed Schroback said. “The fire was right by where our house is.”
At final count, the fire was determined to have spread to 500 acres, Johnson said.
“A 500 acre fire is a large fire,” he said. “We typically don't see fires that large.”
The fire, later determined to be started by an electric utility pole malfunction, also caused power outages in the BackCountry community.
Four years ago, another significant fire began at the same location. At 220 acres, it was half as big as the Chatridge 2 fire.
The EMC is still investigating what sparked these fires and looking into if they were caused by the same malfunction.
“We've had two fires in the same spot,” he said. “We need to prevent that from happening.”
After events like this, the EMC completes an action review of the situation, which includes suggestions for ways to improve, Johnson said. These sometimes take several weeks to complete.
In order to keep the fire from spreading any more, Douglas County brought in a variety of air support, including five large air tankers, two single engine air tankers, three helicopters and three other planes.
“It might take a couple of months to figure out the true cost,” he said.
While Johnson believes the fire was a “huge threat” to the BackCountry neighborhood, he sees the event as a success.
“As bad as it could have been, it wasn't,” he said. “We were very happy, we didn't burn any structures, no injuries and no deaths.”
Looking into the future for that area, the EMC is paying attention to the high chance of excessive water runoff if there is a heavy rain, Johnson said.
“Vegetation holds back water,” he said. “Now we have areas where we could have runoff that flows into (nearby) Highway 85.”
Eventually, though, it will look like it never happened, he said.
“In a couple of years, I don't think folks will even know or remember that we had a fire,” Johnson said. “The oak brush will come back, the grass will come back. In a couple of years the scar from the fire will be totally unnoticeable.”
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