Carbondale, landowners to work together on fire hazard
July 12, 2012
CARBONDALE – Homeowners in three subdivisions along the Crystal River have complained that Carbondale’s policy against clearing brush along the river has created a fire hazard for their homes in this summer of severe drought.
In their regular meeting Tuesday, trustees emphasized that the municipality is not legally or financially liable for the protection of private property from wildfires, but agreed to help out by clearing away brush on a town-owned riparian zone at the river’s edge.
The town’s parks department crew took action the next morning, removing old fire rings in Staircase Park.
The area under discussion before the trustees comprises portions of the Crystal Village, Crystal Acres and Hendrick Ranch projects, which overlook a bend in the Crystal River.
The immediate concern is partying and other activity at Staircase Park, as well as an adjoining parcel, protected by a conservation easement, where shrubs and trees have been growing unchecked for decades.
Residents say they’ve seen people hanging out at the park, and making fires in three fire pits located there.
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“I think a lot of those fires are started by people who don’t know anything about how to put a fire out,” said Dennis Fitzpatrick, noting that there are no water spigots at Staircase Park to help with fire control.
The fire rings, said neighbor Jon Towne, are “something that should have been gotten rid of 25 years ago.”
Speaking for his neighbors, he said, “We support riparian vegetation, but we don’t want our homes to burn down.”
According to Public Works Director Larry Ballenger, the three subdivisions date back as far as 1976, when Crystal Village as a whole was annexed.
Ballenger’s research into town records showed that subsequent approvals for Crystal Acres and Hendrick Ranch established a riparian zone that was intended to provide wildlife habitat and an area of natural vegetation.
But there is little direction in the records as far as clearing out that vegetation in times of drought or other potential hazards, Ballenger reported.
He recommended that the town hire a specialist in riparian vegetation and wildfire management to determine what should be done to alleviate the homeowners’ concerns.
Town officials said they can encourage more frequent checks of the park to chase off late-night partiers, and the fire rings were removed Wednesday morning by the parks department.
As for the vegetation, Trustee John Foulkrod said, “I think it would be prudent to remove any dead growth” to address the fire hazard.
Trustees Allyn Harvey and John Hoffmann, however, recommended caution to avoid ruining the area for wildlife and native plants.
“It definitely wants to stay a wild area,” Hoffmann said.
Town Manager Jay Harrington said he has started the search for an expert consultant to provide an idea of what should be done as quickly as possible.