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Water quality effects following a severe fire

Posted date: August 11, 2015
Publication Year: 
Authors: Rhoades, Charles C.; Entwistle, Deborah; Butler, Dana
Document type: Other Documents


Rhoades, C.C., D. Entwistle, and D. Butler. 2012. Water Quality Effects Following a Severe Fire. Fire Management Today 72(2):35-39.


On June 8, 2002, the Hayman Fire ignited in the Upper South Platte watershed of the Colorado Front Range. That year, total precipitation and the winter snowpack in the area were approximately half of long-term annual averages, and low fuel moisture, low relative humidity, and strong, gusty winds triggered rapid rates of fire spread and long-range spot fires. Coupled with these extreme climatic conditions, the dense, continuous horizontal and vertical fuel structure created by decades of fire exclusion allowed the fire to advance for 24 days and burn through 138,000 acres (55,800 ha) of ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) and Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) forests before being declared contained on July 2 and extinguished on October 30, 2002. It was the largest fire in recent Colorado history.

Stream monitoring that began prior to the fire made it possible to assess fire effects and changes in streamwater properties in burned and unburned catchments for a range of burn severities and watershed characteristics. Streamwater nitrate, temperature, and turdibity (an index of sediment loss) were elevated even 5 years after the Hayman Fire, with implications for drinking water supplies and aquatic habitat.

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