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First fire, then floods in besieged Western states

MANITOU SPRINGS, Colo. — It has been more than a year since the enormous Waldo Canyon Fire roared across the slopes above the tourist town of Manitou Springs. But its burn scar is just beginning to recover, with little plant material — living or dead — to absorb this year’s late-summer rains.

So when a storm came on Aug. 9, drenching rain in the wildfire-blackened hills below Colorado’s Pikes Peak sent a torrent of rock and mud into the town. The runoff killed 53-year-old John Collins destroyed or damaged 36 homes, and engulfed half a dozen cars.

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Wildfire burn scars have spawned flash floods up and down Colorado’s Front Range and in other Western states this summer, saddling communities with millions of dollars in cleanup costs.

‘‘I’m moving out,’’ Manitou Springs resident Donna Stone said. ‘‘It’s incomprehensible to me that I’d be safe here.’’

The threat lingers years after the flames have been extinguished and the human and property losses of fire have been tallied. In New Mexico, where fires have scorched more than 285 square miles of mountain slopes this year, flash floods killed fish and washed out roads in Pecos Canyon, a popular fishing area.

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