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Vallecito recovering from fire
6/15/2007 By: Carole McWilliams
Five years after the Missionary Ridge fire roared through Vallecito, lots of new vegetation covers the burned hillsides between the still standing tree skeletons. Sunday, June 17 is the anniversary of the fire storm on the west side of the lake.
The north end of the lake, now full of water, was a dry dustbowl five years ago. Days before the fire arrived, the dry lake bed was touted as a “safe zone” if people were unable to
Photo by Carole Mc Williams
The hillside on the west side of the lake, visible behind this fishing boat last Saturday, was a mass of fire and smoke on June 17, 2002, and the lake bed was dry.
Several people moved boats and campers onto it, but firestorm-generated vortexes destroyed those items and made a mockery of the term “safe zone.”
The fire storm actually saved some west side buildings, especially the community center.
Emergency responders watching from the east side said the building was surrounded by fire, and the firestorm sucked the oxygen out of it. The building survived with damaged windows and roof, and has since been totally renovated and improved by the community.
The same firestorm snapped the big Ponderosa just south of the community center. It was preserved as a chainsaw sculpture memorial to tree feller Alan Wyatt, the only person killed during the fire. Some fresh flowers were at the base of it last Saturday.
In the days following the firestorm, the fire crossed the river below the dam and slowly worked its way up the back side of the lake, leaving a patchwork of burned and unburned forest all the way up onto the west and east sides of Middle Mountain, and east to the Archuleta County Line.
The fire started on June 9, 2002, on Missionary Ridge Road, which goes up from the east side of the Animas Valley. It jumped the Florida River below Lemon dam on July 15 and reached Vallecito on the 17th. It was declared 99 percent contained on July 17. A total 46 homes were burned in the Missionary Ridge, with 28 of those at Vallecito, four in Aspen Trails, one at Tween Lakes, and 13 on East Animas Road.
Other homes that survived the fires were damaged or destroyed by mud and debris flows during rains later that summer. The worst of those were on East Animas Road. Sludge in the Pine River shut down the Bayfield water treatment plant.
Since then, property owners in hazard areas have constructed sturdy berms to deflect any future debris flows. La Plata County installed larger culverts on affected drainages on County Roads 501, 240, and 250. The Town of Bayfield installed state-of-the-art water treatment units that are supposed to be able to handle sludge inundations.
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