Blue and yellow wildflowers are blooming around the bases of charred trees within the Dollar Ridge Fire burn area.
The same area was aflame last year after the fire broke out on July 1 eight miles southwest of Duchesne. The fire burned for more than a month, spreading to more than 68,000 acres and destroying more than 70 homes, according to information from the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office.
Monday, more than 50 people returned to the burn area at the Wildcat Wildlife Management Area near Heber City to see how wildlife and vegetation is rebounding one year later.
“It’s night and day difference,” said Miles Hanberg, the northeast region supervisor for the Utah Department of Natural Resources.
Hanberg visited the area to confirm that the area was regrowing as expected.
While grasses and flowers had returned, other vegetation, like trees and sagebrush, are expected to take longer. Hanberg said sagebrush can take 10 to 15 years to regrow at higher elevations, and 30 to 40 years at lower levels.
Hanberg said the vegetation looked better than he expected it to and was diverse.
“Up here, fire is part of the natural ecology,” Hanberg said.
The fire burned through most vegetation quickly enough to not have made the ground too hot, which meant that seed beds were preserved. About 13,000 acres of burn area have been seeded. The rest has regrown naturally.
Hanberg said most wildlife didn’t leave the area during the fire, and those that did immediately returned.
Views of the fire area included aspens with gradient burns along their trunks and dark, charred mountainsides speckled with patches of fresh, green growth.
“It’s still just amazing for me to see the growth coming up in these areas,” said Derrick Ewell, a district wildlife biologist with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
Ewell said the area’s seed bed is coming back more diverse, and noticed aspen trees that were already bursting from the soil. He anticipates that the area will see more deer and elk in the next 10 years.
“I see it getting better and better in the future,” Ewell said.
But while things were looking positive for the area’s vegetation, those who live in the area still have concerns about potential floods that could come this summer.
The area saw two floods last year.
“It really devastated a lot of the homes that were left,” said Duchesne County Commissioner Greg Todd.
Todd said he hopes that the wet spring and slow snow melt means locals won’t see a repeat of last year.
“We had a perfect year,” Todd said.
He still has concerns about potential debris flows, and said there are homes that are still not occupied due to flooding.
Todd said he had concerns about the state of the soil in the area, but was optimistic about seeing growth return.
“We’ve been tickled to see what’s up there,” Todd said.