Kent State students study wildfire recovery in Colorado

Photos courtesy of Rachel Will.

Alexandra Fagan

Last summer’s Waldo Canyon wildfire near Colorado Springs became the most destructive fire in Colorado history, until the Black Forest wildfire last month. Now, Kent State students and professors are studying the recovery rate of Waldo Canyon with the hope that their research will help recovery in the future.

The students, in collaboration with the GIS Health & Hazards Lab, have been researching and documenting the recovery rate after the Waldo Canyon fire since November. The team is studying recovery and psychosocial stressors, which are things people see that make them feel stressed and have health implications.

“One of the things we’ve discovered through research is recovery is not a linear process,” said Jacqueline Curtis, associate director of the GIS Health & Hazards Lab. “There are places that will come back really fast, places that will recover very slowly and places that won’t come back at all.”

Andrea Szell and Rachel Will, both graduate geography students, went on the most recent trip to Waldo Canyon from June 22 to 24. On the second day of the trip, they visited some of the neighborhoods that were charred by the Black Forest fire.

“We drove around like we did the first day, but since this just happened it looked a lot different,” Will said. “There were some streets that looked completely fine and others where there would be a single house standing and all you could see were the chimneys.”

This was the second day that the Black Forest fire area was opened to the public. Most of the neighborhood areas were destroyed, and further north the damage was more spread out, Szell said.

“There was a sign at one of the houses that was completely burnt down, and all there was there was a chimney,” Will said. “Most of the signs you see say ‘Thank you for saving our house,’ but this house wasn’t there. But they still had a sign that said, ‘Thank you for trying,’ and I just couldn’t keep it in at that point. It was really difficult.”

Curtis said the Waldo Canyon fire project team hopes to gain more funding from the National Science Foundation to go back and interview wildfire victims.

“Many of these people are moving to these locations for the views because it’s very natural,” Curtis said. “The question is, people are moving to these areas for the view, but do they at all understand the risk of wildfires?”

Contact Alexandra Fagan at [email protected].