Basalt Shooting Range to reopen after fire-prevention steps
August 22, 2012
BASALT – The Basalt Shooting Range is on target to reopen Wednesday after an 18-day closure because of a wildfire.
Perry Will, Area 8 wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, met with Basalt Fire Department officials Tuesday to assess the fire-prevention steps taken. Will said the firefighters advised him there was more defensible space in critical areas, and successful steps were taken to prevent a fire from spreading.
The shooting range will resume hours of operation from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends.
The wildfire mitigation work was in three main areas – creating a fire break, “limbing” trees and building a protective berm.
A State Wildland Inmate Fire Team from Juniper Valley-Rifle used chainsaws and hand tools to carve out a fire break in dense pinyon and juniper stands next to the Wilds housing complex. They were wrapping up Tuesday afternoon by removing the trees from a 30-foot-wide stretch that is about one-quarter mile long. Officials said 20 inmates from the Rifle correctional facility were working for five days. A crew of 10 wrapped up Tuesday. The work was in the Basalt State Wildlife Area, which surrounds the shooting range.
“There were places you couldn’t even walk through,” said Basalt Fire Chief Scott Thompson, noting that the crew had to cut its way into some places.
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The inmate crew also removed lower branches from trees on a hillside behind the shooting range, which is adjacent to Lake Christine, less than a mile from downtown Basalt.
“They got rid of all the ladder fuels, cleaned it up,” Thompson said. Eliminating ladder fuels is important because it keeps a fire in the grasses on the ground and doesn’t let them climb into the canopy, where a fire is harder to control, he said.
Heavy-equipment operators with Colorado Parks and Wildlife undertook the third part of the project. A bulldozer operator built up a berm behind the targets at the rifle range. The berm is now about 20 feet high. It will prevent bullets from passing through targets and striking the hillside farther back. Bullets could previously hit rocks and generate sparks.
In addition, some shooters were placing targets on the hillside, Will said. The higher berm will discourage that. The agency will also post signs banning rifle shooting at targets beyond 100 yards, which keeps use within the horseshoe-shaped berm, Will said. Smoking also will be banned at the range.
Wildlife officers will continue to enforce bans on steel-jacketed ammunition, exploding targets, tracer rounds and fully automatic firearms. Violators will be fined and banned from the range, Colorado Parks and Wildlife said in a statement.
The wildfire on Aug. 4 scorched 2 acres on the hillside behind the rifle range. It occurred during some type of shooting, but the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office concluded that it was an accident. No charges were pursued.
Other area departments assisted Basalt Fire, and federal agencies used a single-engine tanker to drop retardant during the firefighting effort.
Firefighters said different circumstances, such as a stiff wind from the west, would have made the fire difficult to control. Thompson said the thick vegetation that used to extend from the state wildlife area right up to some of the buildings at the Wilds was a recipe for disaster. The lack of a firebreak means those homes would have been hard to save in some circumstances.
“We would not have stood a chance if that fire was moving,” he said.
The fire department will use a chipper to break down the wood chopped to create the firebreak by the Wilds, Thompson said. This winter, firefighters will also burn the piles of stacked wood in areas where the crew cut off lower tree limbs.
Will said the Roaring Mountain Sportsmen’s Association helped pay for the project. They offered to cover one day of the inmates’ work. The 20-man crew was on the job six days, Will said. Colorado Parks and Wildlife will pay for the remainder of the crews’ work. He estimated the total cost at between $10,000 and $12,000. Colorado Parks and Wildlife contributed in-house resources to build the berm taller and perform other work, he said.
Basalt Fire Department will pay for chipping the wood next to the Wilds, Thompson said, stressing it was a very worthwhile project.