Evacuation Planning (Or Not) Story in Colorado Springs Gazette

Yes, we could move everyone out of the Interior West, I suppose, and hope that climate change would bow out long enough to return to “natural” fire regimes denaturalized by climate change, but that doesn’t seem very realistic. Other folks are dealing with making their communities fire resilient and working on evacuation.

Those of us who observed the Marshall Fire in Boulder County, Colorado, noticed what seemed to be a tension between current urban/suburban planning ideas (densification and taking public transportation) and dealing with wildfire (houses further apart and individual vehicles for evacuation). Meanwhile people like living where they do. This extensive article from the Colorado Springs Gazette talks about efforts to plan better for wildfire evacuations and also touches upon mitigation treatments. It’s interesting to me that fuel treatments don’t seem to be controversial here.. for one thing timber industry doesn’t make a good enemy, and most of these projects are on private forest land.

There’s quite a bit of interest in this article. I think you can get it without a paywall here, but if not, please let me know.  You might also be able to get it here.  It’s interesting as we’ve been discussing climate change and prescribed fires, how this reporter characterizes the “equilibrium”.


Whereas a metric like the Forest Service’s “burn probability” estimates the likelihood that an area will burn in a wildfire, but does so without regard to where people might be affected, “exposure” shows where wildfire risk collides with communities.

Within the Forest Service’s five-state Rocky Mountain Region, Evergreen has the highest exposure risk. The second- and third-highest-risk areas in the region are the planning zones that occupy the rest of the Front Range between Evergreen and Colorado Springs. In El Paso County, the high-risk areas include Manitou Springs, the Ridgecrest area northeast of Garden of the Gods, and the Broadmoor neighborhood. Although their populations are smaller, some pockets closer to Boulder and Fort Collins also show high risk, around Estes Park and Cripple Creek and north of Lyons.

Population data from the U.S. Census Bureau, combined with geospatial roadway data from Open Street Maps, shows that more than 35,000 residents — not accounting for seasonal or weekend visitors — in the state’s highest exposure area, in Evergreen, have only a few possible evacuation routes, putting the number of people per lanes of egress routes near or above the number in Paradise, Calif., where residents burned in their cars trying to evacuate, depending on the particulars of a future fire’s location and behavior. Estimates that include more of the outlying areas put the possible evacuation total as high as 60,000 people for the area.

A computer program designed to simulate evacuations, called the Fast Local Emergency Evacuation Times Model (FLEET), operated by Old Dominion University in Virginia, similarly shows the Evergreen area has the longest evacuation time for wildfire-prone parts of the state.

Roxborough Park and Woodland Park are not far behind Evergreen, either for computer-simulated evacuation times or the simpler people-per-lane of evacuation rates ratio.

“There’s a heightened awareness of the wildfire danger here,” Chuck Newby, a resident of South Evergreen who was recently elected to the Elk Creek Fire Board in the southwest portion of the larger Evergreen area.

Conversations he’s had with other residents, he said, are more and more often about evacuations.

“After seeing the Camp Fire, East Troublesome, Marshall, these major fires,” Newby said, “you have people asking what would happen? What would happen if this happened here? What would I do?”

Mitigation efforts

The buzz, flutter and gurgle of chainsaws pierced an otherwise calm June afternoon, emanating from the home of Rich Mancuso, in the Echo Hills neighborhood near the center of Evergreen.

LAM Tree Service climber Ezra Vaughn prepares to fell a pine tree next to the deck on Rich Mancuso and Debbie Pasko’s property while bucket truck operator Tyler Engebritson and foreman Elias Cerna pull on a rope attached to the tree on Thursday, June 2, 2022, in Evergreen, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/The Denver Gazette)

Mancuso, who grew up in Staten Island, N.Y., and moved to Evergreen in 1980, watched as the crew from Lam Tree Services strategically felled trees on his property and prepared them for disposal.

Mancuso said he had his property’s vegetation thinned in order to keep his homeowners’ insurance, after his agent told him about the company’s new approach to proper fire mitigation in the high-risk area.

“They told us to do it,” Mancuso said, “or they would cancel our policy.”

The science behind mitigating fire-prone vegetation echoes the natural cycle of wildland fire and puts a mirror to the now broadly panned fire-suppression strategy of forest management deployed in the West for more than a century.

Without human intervention, wildfires burn through forests, destroying saplings but sparing the oldest and largest trees, which has the multiple effects of re-nutrifying the soil, clearing space around and strengthening the bark of the forests’ largest trees, and helping new seeds take root. The sparser forest left behind is healthier overall, and less susceptible to larger fires that spread through the forest canopy instead of closer to the ground.

In the American West, however, the longstanding forest management that favored rapid fire suppression led to forests that are denser than they would be naturally, making fires more intense and harder to fight.

Forest management practices have begun to move toward allowing the natural fire cycle to play out, but it’s estimated that millions of acres of forests in the western U.S. would need to see small-scale fires that naturally restore forest health, in order to get back to equilibrium — a dangerous prospect, given the proclivity of the forests to burn more intensely, because of the misguided policies of the past.


And a quote from FS retiree Bernie Weingardt


The Evergreen Fire Protection District’s wildfire protection plan, updated in 2020, includes a roadway analysis that estimates “non-survivable” evacuation routes are spread throughout the area, meaning the roads risk putting drivers adjacent to 8-foot or larger flames, based on the fuels along the roads.

Bernie Weingardt, an Evergreen resident who worked for the U.S. Forest Service for 37 years, said the report told him and other residents what they had long suspected.

“They ran the simulations on it, and in Evergreen, you see it will bottleneck really fast,” Weingardt said. “Just a normal day out here, with everyday traffic, you have cars backed up at the main intersections. So the small roads feeding into the main arteries, they’ll end up gridlocked, with traffic backed up into the neighborhoods.”

Dense forests line Colorado Road 73 just south of North Turkey Creek Road on Saturday, June 18, 2022, in Evergreen, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/The Denver Gazette)

The plan goes on to show where traffic-pattern analysis suggests congestion could form, based on the roadway capacity and number of possible evacuees.

“If high congestion and non-survivable roadway are in the same place,” the plan explains, “there is a high risk to life safety.”

The plan’s introduction nods to the most prominent example of such conditions, when the Camp fire devastated Paradise, Calif.: “Failed communication, poor evacuation routes, and unmitigated vegetation were all contributing factors in the 83 casualties that took place in November 2018.”




9 thoughts on “Evacuation Planning (Or Not) Story in Colorado Springs Gazette”

  1. Hi Sharon, Based on your opening paragraph you seem to indicate that there are folks who are advocating that we move everyone out of the Interior West and hope that climate change bows out long enough to return to “natural’ fire regimes denaturalized by climate change.

    Can you please give examples of folks who seem to be advocating what you are claiming? If not, that’s a pretty bizarre and disingenuous way to frame the issue, in my opinion.

    I do know that plenty of folks in the forest protection community have been advocating for over 20 years now that a focus should be placed within the Home Ignition Zone in order to save homes and lives and protect firefighters and emergency responders.

    Also, it seems pretty clear that the most significant contributing factor in the casualties that took place in Paradise, CA in 2018 was negligence by Pacific Gas & Electric, which is why they plead guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter stemming from the wildfire touched off by the utility company’s power lines.

    • People often say ” others need to move away from these dangers”. But they don’t necessarily say (a) where they should move FROM specifically, and (b) where they should move TO specifically.

      For example, the town of Aspen is surrounded by trees in a wildfire prone way. Should those folks move out? (they seem to have the money). To somewhere that doesn’t have fires? Where exactly would that be.. not Malibu. Do you see what I’m saying?

      As to a “bizarre and disingenuous” framing, I completely agree. Perhaps as Eric says below, they should move “somewhere People like living where they do because millions of dollars will be spent to protect them, for which they don’t have to pay their proportional share.” If we are thinking FEMA, we would think “out of fire country, earthquake country, volcano country, flood country, tornado country and hurricane country”. Then there’s the fact that we don’t know (except for earthquakes and volcanos) exactly where fires, floods, tornados and hurricanes will occur under climate change.

    • Matt, where do you get the conclusion that PGE was the reason for the fatalities on the camp? Yes, their equipment started the fire and they may have delayed proper notification. But any ignitions with those weather conditions would have been trouble. I don’t see anything in that article describing how they were the unique reason behind the fatalities.

      • Who managed the fuels? Humans caused the ignition.

        Sometimes it’s lightning, but fuels and weather are key, with topography setting the boundaries. Fuels are manageable, topography is not, weather is variable, and thanks to people, fire is everywhere all of the time.

  2. “Meanwhile people like living where they do.”
    Such a simple statement, it has to be true. Until we actually think about why.
    Bankers love the FDIC. “We love gambling with other people’s money because we know we’ll get bailed out” says the bankster. Capitalism loves bubbles. The rich get richer and everyone else pays the tab.
    People like living where they do because millions of dollars will be spent to protect them, for which they don’t have to pay their proportional share.
    Do you honestly think they’d like living there without guarantees of protection? I guarantee the answer is none once they’ve been burned over.

    I grew up 16 miles west of Lolo, MT. My Dad did everything he could to create defensible space and an irrigation system plugged into the Lolo Creek around the entire perimeter. We got lucky twice in my lifetime. My Dad was smart. Saw the writing on the wall and moved.

    • Eric, I happen to live in a place with trees, with no fed lands. And guess what, we get fire protection from the County, which I suspect we and the State are paying for. And our insurance company recently contracted with private fire protection. I think we are paying our proportional share. But perhaps not?

      As to moving after a fire, here’s a story from the Waldo Canyon fire folks 10 years after. They have rebuilt.
      “Petkash said deciding to stay in that neighborhood was an easy decision, because he likes the neighborhood, a sentiment shared by many of his neighbors. All but two of the families on Yankton Place rebuilt on the same lot and came back.

      “Right after the fire, we definitely all became closer,” Petkash said of his neighbors, recalling a dinner they shared together two weeks after the fire at a Mexican restaurant.


      In the aftermath, Petkash and his family stayed with extended family for six months while they found a builder and planned their new home. “In an ironic way my wife never really liked the layout of our house,” he said. All but one house on the street has a new layout.

      “2012 was the end of that neighborhood and now it’s a totally new neighborhood, a lot of the same people, but just different,” Petkash said. “We’re way past this now. It’s behind us.””

      Where exactly are the people you think should move away, and to where?

      • 1. Objection: Scope of the question. We’re talking about Federal policy, right? My comment was based on using federal policy to impact local planning.

        2. Objection: Non sequiter, exite. ” … we are paying our proportional share.” We’re talking specifically about federal spending on fire, right? For example, did the people living around the Dixie fire pay their proportional share of the $637.4 million federal tab?

        3. Objection: Relevance. What does “I happen to live in a place with trees” have to do with the WUI? Do you live in a place your county has defined as WUI for the purposes of HFRA? To equate the two is, I suspect in your particular case (while not the common layman), disingenuous. If so, then a genuine comment should have stated such.

        4. As to the anecdote, I appreciate you revealing the fact that that humans probably rank last among all mammalian species at one trial learning because they “overimitate”:

      • Apologies, I didn’t answer the final question.
        My Dad moved to Guemes Island, WA. Great place. Not one fire in the decade since they moved because, you know, it’s not a ‘fire adapted forest.”

        So, I guess the short answer (because there are so many millions of places, to detail them all would probably be a bit boring to the commentariat) that logically follows is “any place not in fire adapted forest WUI.” Shouldn’t be a huge stretch. Humans are nothing if not adaptable.

  3. All this talk makes little sense…desire to have a fire burn through consuming everything but older trees, with conclusions / assumptions that is beneficial for new growth….destroy all young seedlings/ saplings and scratch that generation and root for the next one…such is not even close to maximum productivity…burning off litter and humus at ground level removes long term nutrients in perpetual decay – there for a reason….nutrients ….its lunacy to describe fire as a cure….fire is a natural disaster….i hesitate to discuss the matter further with people seemingly lost in illogical theories…fire suppresion is required to protect the resources in natural growth…what has been missing is the manual removal of overcrowded forests…it is growing there for benefit but apparently for decades desk jockeys preferred avoidance of the hard work required to physically manage a forest. I speak from experience thinning usfs forest by contract and
    Always accomplished by directions of usfs and very physically hard work…there are zillions of trees out there and apparently for decades idiots have been allowed to rule the roost and the drought the dry flammable forest is caused by conditions/processes across the planet that have nothing to do with forest, the burning crown fires are the canary in the coal mine warning….in western Europe there appears to be a concerted plan within a decade to leave behind fossil fuels ” converting to hydrogen production via electrolysis-using solar/wind/hydro-electric production…if true this is a wise move into a healthier planet . Hopefully the USA population will wakeup too. The industrial revolution has resulted in what we now see. All early evidence indicates hydrogen from water with byproduct of water vapor was always the dream energy source nature provided witheld from use because of a century old fossil fuel monopoly. This morning i watched a fossil fuel truck pulling an electric tesla car out of the mud from rains that extinguished the Hermit Peak Fire disaster. Dont be fooled by electric cars which would leave America helpless should it ever have to fight a full blown war. Advocate for that gas combustion truck to be powered by hydrogen gas boys and girls…A full blown forest fire is no doubt a destructive monster but do not throw out the baby with the bath water! Any theory to protect oneself from forest fire is to either cut down the forest or just burn it now is not science and is in fact a symptom of a society now fuctioning illogically. Can’t see the forest for the trees = only see dry forest ready to go up in smoke while ignoring the root cause of the problem. Pray fire never comes to your favorite forest while getting after the government to start spending resources to bring things back into balance including mechanically pruning (dont laugh loggers-your pruning too) what needs removal, vs. what must stay to protect the ecosystems. Road damages created can be repaired in short time periods compared to a hundred years lost from Hermits Peak or any other disatrous fire…For 3 to 4 decades of abundant supply of forest mulches bagged at your local garden center removed from forest certainly has contributed to the declining health of forest…the government has to be convinced that major budgetary funding to all forest ecosystems is the required solution along with all mentioned above…the root problem special interest in Washington . Millions of acres burned and timber/ lumber lost while using the bandaid approach spending billions to fight fires rather than billions making ecosystems absolutely sustainable reproductivity….the current trend of ” resilient” is a nonsensical misnomer-feel good solution-(our forest are burning so lets figure out how to make forest more resilient to fire and we shall do that by preburning the forest) and whatever we do burn or lightning strikes do burn we will call the resilient forest…!!! Indications are Americans are about ready to drink some Jim Jones kool aid . Personally i would never cut down my favorite trees because the insurance company demanded it…I love the trees surrounding my habitat…i believe in God, and if a forest fire destroyed my habitat , i would begin again and call it just another day in what is a major tradegy occuring across the USA.
    IF SMOKEY THE BEAR said “The only way to prevent forest fire is to just go ahead and set it on fire now because sooner or later its gonna burn , old Smokey would be locked up and hauled away to the loony farm. Rather 1950-79 he would have been at the psychiatrist office saying that..but from about 1980 forward with a very selfish special interest government (James Watts) all forms of promises of events planned and unfolding were for our best interest have now come home to roost in not so pretty or good outcomes…get to work seeking other outcomes or accept the end result that you consented to “whatever outcomes having been planned by others” now very visible each and every day. Good luck !


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