Storms Trigger Mudslides Where Colo. Wildfire Burned

An army of more than a dozen Colorado Department of Transportation dump trucks worked to haul tons of mud and dirt away from U.S. Highway 24 near Cascade on Tuesday morning.

More than five feet of mud slid onto the motor way from the nearly three inches of rain that was reported in that area of El Paso County from Monday afternoon to Tuesday morning.

The wall of mud came down the hill from the Waldo Canyon fire burn area and had the highway closed until about 6 a.m. Tuesday.

"We've been anticipating this type of event," said Dave Watt, a resident engineer with CDOT who was at the site Tuesday morning. "Right now we're in cleanup mode trying to get the highway back open fully."

The cleanup effort had the crucial connection from Colorado Springs to Teller County snarled with slowdowns as westbound traffic was down to one lane.

The mud, water and debris even left a business owner and residents along the south side of the highway dealing with cleanups of their own.

Vince Hanson, a grower for Living Waters medical marijuana dispensary in Cascade, was one employee wielding a shovel and pushing a wheel barrow in an effort to clear a path to the front door of the shop.

Hanson continually paused and looked across 24 in disgust.

"I don't think they are going to solve this," Hanson said after the highway had to be closed because of mud flowing from the burn area for the second time since July 9.

"I think it's going to go like this until somebody gets hurt, or killed," he said.

As the dump trucks worked to move the dirt to open areas along Ute Pass between Cascade and Manitou Springs, Watt and a group of CDOT officials trekked along the charred hills north of 24 and tried to formulate a plan.

Watt said crews have been, and will be, on standby since the July 9 mudslide in the area. He said officials have been scratching their heads and trying to brainstorm plans to completely solve the problem.

"Those are being developed," Watt said. "Long-term solutions are a ways off right now."

Watt added that CDOT is coordinating with Colorado Springs, El Paso County and federal officials to try to find a solution before, as Hanson put it, "somebody gets hurt."

The U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers are among the agencies involved in the planning.

Until a solution is found, CDOT workers will continue be on the ready, "in case this happens again," Watt said.

And residents in the area will continue to clean up mud after intense storms. Some will even have to find alternate routes up and down Ute Pass.

Bob Hochhalter, who was in Manitou Springs on Monday with his wife to see a concert in Soda Springs Park, had to take the long way home to their residence near Green Mountain Falls.

Hochhalter said the couple was turned around just west of Manitou Springs about 8 p.m. after finding out the show was cancelled. Crews worked throughout the pass Monday night as mud blanketed the roadway, mostly in the westbound lanes.

The Hochhalters decided to drive south through Canon City and up through Florissant, Divide and Woodland Park instead of staying in the Colorado Springs area for the night. Hochhalter said they faced intense weather for most of the journey.

"It was pouring the whole way," he said. "We had to slow down and almost couldn't see the lanes."

Copyright 2012 - The Gazette, Colorado Springs, Colo.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service