Basalt Mtn. burn expected to ignite today |

Basalt Mtn. burn expected to ignite today

Scott Condon

Don’t panic if you see smoke rising from between the developed area of Missouri Heights and the west side of Basalt Mountain today and Wednesday – the fire will be by design, not accident.

Firefighting crews with the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management hope to torch 1,000 acres over the two days in an effort to reduce the potential threat of an uncontrolled wildfire.

Crews have already started small fires to help establish the perimeter. That process is called black-lining, according to Hal Coombs, an officer with the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit in Rifle.

He said the fire will produce a lot of smoke, but observers probably won’t see flames jumping among the Gambol oak that dominates the hillside. There is a possibility that the smoke will settle into the lower elevations of the Roaring Fork Valley, so people with health problems should be prepared.

The Roaring Fork Prescribed Burn, as the feds are formally referring to the Basalt Mountain project, will coincide with the 1,000-acre Cache Creek prescribed burn, 15 miles south of Rifle.

The purpose of the fires is to reduce the height in the stands of brush so that fires cannot spread as easily, according to a press release from the fire management headquarters. The burn will also stimulate new growth in grasses and shrubs that will benefit wildlife.

Coombs said a team of about 20 firefighters will work the fire today. They will set fires within the perimeter established by the black lines and natural barriers.

The prescribed burn is expected to continue next year. A total of about 3,000 acres, an area equal to Snowmass ski area, will be targeted.

Although the fire is expected to die down at night, when the humidity rises, firefighters will remain on patrol.

After two years of planning, the project almost had to be postponed this year because of weather conditions. The fire couldn’t be started earlier because there was still snow on parts of the slopes. The burn area is between 7,500 and 8,500 feet in elevation.

All the recent precipitation also created problems. “We’re starting to green up a little bit,” said Coombs. Nevertheless, the conditions are still within the parameters needed for a successful project, he said.

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