Land Eroding In Lower North Fork Fire Area

Residents May Have To Cover Cost For Immediate Erosion Prevention

The heavy rains have caused new problems for Lower North Fork fire victims.

"(I) woke up this morning to discover the side of my hill falling away," said fire victim Kristen Moeller.

Erosion is a major issue following a wildfire in a mountain area. After a torrential downpour on Wednesday night into Thursday morning, Moeller's ground started to give way.

"This is all exposed, where it wasn't yesterday," said Moeller. "This is what we were afraid of happening."

Moeller's home was one of the 23 destroyed in the Lower North Fork fire. She is now living back on her property in a small Airstream trailer with her husband and two dogs.

"All of us are going to be dealing with this, not just my property, but I just happened to have discovered it before a lot of the other neighbors because we're living here now," said Moeller.

State Not Taking Responsibility For Erosion Prevention

"The Governor really seemed behind the idea that the (State) Forest Service really should do something about this," said Moeller.

Since the Colorado State Forest Service started the fire that led to the Lower North Fork destruction, 7NEWS asked the State Forest Service if it should be paying to prevent the erosion.

A spokesman directed our questions to two soil conservation groups.

One of those groups is the Jefferson Conservation District.

After the 2010 Fourmile Canyon fire in Boulder -- which destroyed 166 homes -- the Jefferson Conservation District helped with erosion prevention. Though, it wasn't until April 2011 when the group used helicopters to drop straw mulch onto the burned properties.

It cost $1.7 million but was covered by state and federal grants.

Jefferson County told 7NEWS that it does not have tax-funded money to pay for erosion prevention.

"In the very beginning, there was all sorts of talk about this kind of help; prevent erosion, you don't want what happened in Fourmile to happen to us, and then it's kind of drifted away because apparently it's not so bad as some of the other fires."

Grass is growing in many places that had been charred black just two months ago. That is a good sign to help protect against erosion. There are still many areas that have no ground protection.

The fire started on Denver Water Board property. 7NEWS asked Denver Water if it was responsible for making sure erosion would not impact its property and water supply.

Spokeswoman Stacy Chesney said Denver Water is only responsible for its property and not private property.

"In the time following the fire, we consulted with experts to assess the impact to our land. It was determined that the ground vegetation was already recovering, with grasses and shrubs starting to sprout. In addition, due to the steep slopes, it was determined that any additional work on the land could harm the delicate landscape that was beginning to grow back. We will continue evaluating our property, including the effects of the recent storms, and do what’s necessary for our land. Every property and every slope is different. Debris washed by a flood would not create liability for any property owners," said Chesney.

"Help is what we want," said Moeller. "We feel really grateful to all the help we are receiving and grateful for the legislative changes and we're cautiously optimistic about that, but this is something we have to deal with."

Moeller said insurance does not protect homeowners for land erosion. Any damage paid by residents would have to be added to a claim against the state. On Monday, Governor John Hickenlooper signed two Lower North Fork fire bills into law. One of the laws allows victims to potentially get more than the state's $600,000 liability. There's no guarantee that victims will get the exact amount of their claims.

"Where do we find the money to do this? Where do we find the time to do this? If we have claims that are ever paid that is going to be some time in the future, so right now what do we do?" said Moeller.

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