Residents in De Beque are questioning the Bureau of Land Management's plan to close more than 13,000 acres of burned recreation land south of town.
Limited access starts on Thursday and is scheduled to last until July 12, 2013. Wednesday night, BLM officials held a community meeting with concerned residents to answer questions.
During the presentation, BLM Manager Catherine Robertson called the Pine Ridge Fire the largest ever seen in this area adding that the kind of closure being implemented isn't taken lightly.
"There are a lot of issues on this fire that we've never had to deal with before," she told an audience of about 20 residents.
Officials say the rapid growth of the blaze sparked on June 27 by lightning began the devastation. "It burned so a lot hotter than we're used to seeing and it burned everything in its path," Robertson added.
The Pine Ridge Fire also closed the interstate and forced many to leave their property behind. Tiffany Duncan was one of those people with land right in the middle of the fire.
"When I went up there to check it out, about 95% of our property is burnt," she said. "We lost all of our plants, our trees, and an oasis area."
Duncan has been holding on to the property for years and was planning to build a cabin on the land. "Hunting is very good up here, so it would be perfect," she said. "But this is the second fire up in that area in two years, so is it worth putting the time and money into it?"
When asked how long it would take to completely rehabilitate the area, BLM officials had no answer. "If we can get the seeding to take before the winter, we'll be in good shape," one representative said. "But, some of those trees were hundreds of years old."
The closure comes as concerns grow over mudslides, water contamination, and unstable land.
"A big fire for us is about 5,000 acres because we have so many natural barriers," Sparky Taber, a natural resource specialist with the BLM, said. "[We have] canyons and cliffs and this fire just skipped right through all that stuff."
Already, the Clifton Water Treatment Plant is having trouble treating water soaked with ash from the fire. Addressing that issue is just one aspect of a plan being developed to restore the scar of the fire.
As restoration continues, locals are being banned from the area. "All of a sudden, you just show up there and its closed," Lyle Prather asked.
That means limited access, no hunting and no grazing for livestock. Several roads will also be closed as crews work to limit the amount of traffic through the burned acreage.
"We got pretty fragile soils out there and we want to do everything we can to keep them in place," Taber said.
"We know this is a 'honey-hole' for hunting, but there's not much we can offer folks trying to get in that area," Robertson said asking for patience.
Still, plenty of residents worry the closure will last a lot longer than the BLM expects. "They've closed other areas for rehabilitation for years," Pather said. "There's good hunting out there and... you know when they close something down, it takes an act of Congress to ever open it back up again."
Officials told property owners in the area that they would help restore vegetation on their private property in the affected area. They also assured residents they'd limit the spread of invasive species of plants.
"We care a lot about this land and want to mitigate what this fire has done," Taber explained.
Officials say if good progress is made they will look into opening the area early. They hope to have a rehab plan finalized and begin work in the area in the next few weeks.