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On Walkabout At: The Hayman Fire Burn Scar

Basic Information

  • What: Hayman Fire Burn Scar
  • Where: Northwest of Woodland Park, Colorado
  • More Information: Denver Post

Narrative

I recently decided to take a drive up Highway 67 northwest of Colorado Springs to take a look at the Hayman Fire burn scar.  Colorado Springs now has its own burn scar due to the Waldo Canyon Fire this summer, so I figured it would be interesting to see how the forest where the Hayman Fire occurred has recovered 10 years after that fire.  Highway 67 is reached from Colorado Springs by traveling north on Highway 24 to Woodland Park:


View Larger Map

From Woodland there is a right turn in the middle of the city to go north on Highway 67.  Highway 67 at first is a very pleasant drive as its passes through thickly wooded lands that appears to either be owned by someone with a huge house, used as a  golf course, or as ranch land.  As the highway enters the Hayman Fire burn scar the amount of houses drops off considerably as the road is surrounded by burned trees:

Where I work many of my co-workers were complaining about how bad the smoke was from the Waldo Canyon Fire this year.  However, many of them were not living in Springs when the Hayman Fire happened back in 2002.  I was living in Colorado Springs back in 2002 when this fire happened and I thought the smoke from this fire was worse than the Waldo Canyon Fire despite burning 60+ miles from the city.

Map from the Denver Post.

In terms of property damage the Waldo Canyon Fire was the worst on Colorado history, but in terms of acres the Hayman Fire was the worst in Colorado’s history consuming 137,760 acres.  The Waldo Canyon Fire is 11th with 18,247 acres consumed.  When driving through the Hayman Fire burn scar the scale of the Hayman Fire is easier to appreciate:

This really was just an absolutely huge fire.  Something even worse about this fire was that it burned so hot and totally devastated the forests in the area.  This means it will take longer for the trees to reestablish themselves since hardly any trees in the burn scar survived the fire.  All throughout the burn scar small trees can be seen starting to grow, but it will probably be 20+ years before the forests here recover:

It is always sad to see people lose their homes and property to a wildfire or even their lives.  However, to an extent many people living out West kind of understand that wildfires are part of nature and try to prepare for them and take them in stride.  However, what makes people in Colorado so upset about the Hayman Fire was that it was not an act of nature, but instead all the devastation was human caused just like the Waldo Canyon Fire:

A US Forest Service employee Terry Barton was convicted for starting the fire.  She said she started the fire after burning a letter from her estranged husband who she was going through a divorce with.  However, I know of no one in Colorado Springs at least that believes that story.  Everyone I talk to about the Hayman Fire all think she intentionally set the fire to either bring glory to herself by reporting the fire and attempting to put it out or stop herself from being sent to help fight other fires burning in the region so she can stay home and deal with the divorce.

During a videotaped interview with federal investigators on July 15, 2002, former U.S. Forest Service employee Terry Barton points to where a week earlier she started the Hayman fire, the largest in Colorado history. Barton said she lit a letter from her estranged husband in the fire ring and the flames escaped. Authorities doubt her story. (U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement Investigations Bureau) Via the Denver Post.

She ended up serving 5 years in prison for starting the fire and remains on probation today.  She still has five years of probation remaining and owes over $58 million in restitution to the fire’s victims.  Due to being on probation she still lives in the Colorado Springs area and does court ordered community service that includes planting trees at the burn scar.  It seems to me she probably received the proper punishment, but it is still sad to see the damage done from the fire:

Hopefully the forest can continue to recover and this area becomes the beautiful part of Colorado it once was:

Conclusion

It is well worth taking a drive up Highway 67 through the Hayman Fire burn scar.  Even though the area has been scorched it is still interesting to see how the forest is recovering.  People are also returning to the area as a few new homes have been rebuilt in the burn scar.  Undoubtedly in 20 years the people who built these homes are going to live among some spectacular high country scenery once again.  I can’t wait to see it again myself as well.

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