Valley turns into the smoky mountains | AspenTimes.com

Valley turns into the smoky mountains

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A thick haze hung over the valley Wednesday, obscuring views of local mountaintops and colorful fall foliage.

But whatever you do, don’t blame it on Montrose.

According to fire officials at the Montrose Interagency Dispatch Center, although the fire agency was managing three prescribed burns in the areas of Gunnison, Crawford and Nucla, the smoke in Aspen had nothing to do with those burns, as many locals theorized yesterday.

“Everyone thinks it’s us, but it’s actually coming from a fire in Utah,” said Dee Fogelquist, the manager for the Montrose dispatch center.

According to a press release from the Utah Interagency Fire Information Center, a prescribed burn in the Uinta National Forest near Charleston, Utah, erupted Tuesday afternoon because of wind. As a result, by Wednesday morning 3,200 acres were burned.

Fogelquist said smoke from the prescribed burns in and around Montrose County was going south, rather than northwest to the Roaring Fork Valley.

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“This time of year the public needs to be aware that land management agencies need to accomplish fuel reduction, so we will be burning,” he said.

The prescribed burn in Utah was part of a three-part plan to burn 3,800

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acres. The area was partially burned in April 2000. This week’s burn was the second of three parts.

Prescribed fires help to restore ecosystems by removing the accumulation of combustible material like leaves and needles from an area, leaving a “natural firebreak” that encourages new plant growth. The prescribed fires are ignited when weather gets cooler and humidity rises, and when wind speed and direction requirements are met, to reduce the chance of an unexpected area being burned.

In the case of the Cascade fire, as the Utah fire is being called, unforeseen winds caused the blaze to travel beyond the contained area. As of press time last night there was no estimate of containment, but no structures were threatened. Four 20-person hand crews were working to dig a containment line through dense oak brush in steep terrain.

On Tuesday, fire crews from the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management were working together to burn “control lines” around the areas near Montrose that will be burned in the next few days. Fogelquist said those lines don’t comprise more than 50 acres.

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com]

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