Denver, CO -- The changing seasons are one of the simple pleasures of Colorado, and many will take the opportunity to get out and enjoy nature one last time before the first snow falls. This year, hikers and recreationists must take special care when traversing areas affected by wildfires. In addition to the obvious dangers of smoldering materials and a new fire starting, problems can arise because of a seemingly helpful resource, water.
The wildfires have left burn areas devoid of vegetation and ground cover. This makes these areas more susceptible to flooding and mudslides with even the slightest levels of precipitation. Rainfall of even 1/4 inch can cause flash flooding and accompanying mudslides. Conditions can quickly change, wiping out a trail and trapping a hiker.
In the event of a storm, hikers should avoid any natural drainages, such as creeks or stream beds. Seek higher ground to avoid potential flooding. If you should become trapped, use brightly colored signal flags to attract attention or, if burn restrictions have been lifted and it is safe to do so, light a small signal fire. A signal fire should only be used if absolutely necessary.
Some tips to remember when hiking at any time:
- Plan your trip carefully - Plan a route ahead of time using accurate maps of the area you are hiking. Be sure to let someone know of your intended route and time of return.
- Get a weather report and stay aware of conditions - Fast-moving frontal systems can bring sudden and violent changes in mountain weather year-round.
- Check with authorities - Forest rangers know their district and can offer valuable advice on trails, campsites and potential problems. Also check for fire restrictions and closure notices that may affect your planned route.
- Do not go alone - Unless you are an experienced hiker, a party of at least four persons is recommended. There is safety in numbers.
- Carry water and food - It is important to stay hydrated, especially under the hot summer sun. Water may not be readily available along trails. No untreated or unfiltered water should be consumed. Carry some basic food such as fruit or granola.
- Carry a cell phone - You may be able to call for help in case of an emergency. Don't get a false sense of security, as cell phone range can be limited in remote areas.
- Beware of rocks/boulders - Loose rock can be a serious hazard. Mudslides can move boulders of massive size. Never roll rocks down a mountainside. You may endanger a party below.
- Get off exposed ridges during storms - Severe thunderstorms move fast and may be accompanied by rain, hail, high winds, low visibility and lightning. If you are trapped in a lightning storm, stay away from lone trees or rocks.
- Be aware of hazard trees - Fire can burn and weaken the root systems of trees. Weakened trees can fall, even in light winds. Without needles, these trees provide no warning because they make little or no sound. Everyone in a hiking party should keep an eye on the trees above.