Elephant Butte Fire a year later

A move to mitigation and more

Deb Hurley Brobst
dbrobst@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 7/13/21

It took 130 firefighters, numerous apparatus, 56,000 gallons of water from Evergreen Lake and a drenching downpour to put out last year’s Elephant Butte Fire. The fire just west of downtown …

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Elephant Butte Fire a year later

A move to mitigation and more

Posted

It took 130 firefighters, numerous apparatus, 56,000 gallons of water from Evergreen Lake and a drenching downpour to put out last year’s Elephant Butte Fire.

The fire just west of downtown Evergreen, which started on July 13, 2020, forced the evacuation of 1,000 residents as firefighters spent 10 days containing the blaze that scorched 54 acres of timber and grassland in challenging, rocky terrain. Luckily, most evacuees were allowed back into their homes in a couple days.

MORE: Lessons to learn from Elephant Butte

The fire was terrifying for many as they worried about their houses, belongings, pets and livestock — and most importantly, their lives.

It was a wake-up call for some to prepare for wildfire.

“People are more aware of the need for wildfire mitigation and preparedness,” said Stacee Martin, Evergreen Fire/Rescue spokeswoman. “It was a good wake-up call for our community. We like to think we live in this paradise, but there’s always a threat. We are super excited that people seem to be a bit more motivated to do mitigation.”

Preparing for evacuation is just as important, she added.

“Are you signed up for CodeRED (the reverse emergency-notification system) and do you know a couple ways to evacuate out of your neighborhood?” she asked. “It takes a village to keep our community safe.”

She said while this summer’s rains have been great to keep things green, it also brings lightning, which can potentially spark a fire, and once things dry out — and they will — then the dried grass becomes a fire hazard.

“Don’t use the rain as an excuse that everything’s good,” she said.

Who’s to blame

Fire officials announced last September that the fire was not nature caused, ruling out lightning.

The fire started on a section of the 70 acres along Upper Bear Creek Road owned by Ted and Julie Antenucci and quickly spread to Elephant Butte, which is owned by Denver Mountain Parks. While rumors have circulated about how the fire might have started, fire officials will not comment because it is an ongoing investigation and are quick to point out that wildfires are difficult to investigate.

“It’s hard to prove an arson case,” Martin said, “and it’s even more difficult in a wildland case. It’s not like there are cameras in the woods.”

She hoped those responsible for starting the fire learned about the damage their carelessness caused and a lesson, noting that everyone needs to be smart about fire when they are outdoors.

Water quality, erosion control

Despite a 54-acre burn area, the water quality in Bear Creek, which flows into Evergreen Lake, has been good.

Chris Schauder, the environmental department manager for the Evergreen Metro District, said there have been no issues with runoff as a result of the burn scar and rain. Some debris has moved down Elephant Butte, but it never entered the creek, and EMD used silt fencing and straw wattles to ensure silt didn’t enter the water.

Within the burn scar, some of the fallen trees and branches have been repositioned in erosion channels to keep more of the silt at bay.

Bear Creek and Evergreen Lake provide drinking water for a large share of Evergreen and for some cities down the hill.

Denver Mountain Parks, which owns Elephant Butte, has done some mitigation and seeding in the burn area, Schauder said.

Grateful community

Evergreen is thankful for the quick actions of first responders with Evergreen Fire/Rescue and the Jeffco Sheriff’s Office taking the lead. The fire department tweeted at 3:18 p.m. on July 13, 2020, that it was responding to a wildland fire, and within 40 minutes, the first evacuation orders were issued. Forty-five minutes later, additional evacuations were ordered.

Martin is thankful for all of the fire departments that answered Evergreen Fire/Rescue’s call for aid, and that no one died and no buildings were lost because of the fire.

Ted Antenucci summed up how Evergreen is grateful for the herculean efforts it took to keep the fire from spreading and potentially causing a wildfire disaster.

“The fire department did an amazingly great job,” he said. “I give them a whole lot of kudos.”

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