Feds to explain fire strategy Friday in Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Feds to explain fire strategy Friday in Aspen

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – The small forest fire burning southeast of Aspen this week may be little more than smoldering ash Friday morning, after today’s afternoon’s rains, but the U.S. Forest Service will nonetheless hold a press conference Friday at City Hall to explain its fire-management policy.

“We really anticipate that, if not this fire, other fires in the future we’re going to try to manage in a way that we can achieve some ecosystem benefits and at the same time protect private property,” said Pat Thrasher, public affairs officer for the White River National Forest.

A lightning strike Monday started the fire on the lower slopes of Smuggler Mountain, about three miles outside of town. The wildfire was burning about a mile to 1.5 miles up the slope, on the north side of Highway 82. The Forest Service decided to let it burn in order to reduce fuels that have accumulated in the forest, though the blaze had not grown beyond about a quarter to a third of an acre in size by Thursday.

“If the rain that I’m standing in now is widespread, we may be on the downside of this right now,” Thrasher said Thursday afternoon in Aspen. “We have not called it out and probably won’t for awhile.”

The potential for wildfires in the Aspen area and the Roaring Fork Valley is mounting, he added, given the buildup of dead vegetation in the forest.

“The possibility of fire in this valley is growing,” Thrasher said. “The probability of fire is growing every year.”

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That makes this a good time to tell the public how the Forest Service intends to handle wildfires, he said.

“We just see this as a teachable moment.”

Friday’s press conference begins at 10 a.m. It will be broadcast on CGTV Channel 11.

At what’s been deemed the Difficult Fire, for its proximity to the Difficult Creek drainage and Difficult Campground on the south side of Highway 82, a seven-member crew of wildland firefighters from Yellowstone National Park took over at the scene Thursday morning.

Area Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management firefighters were relieved of duty so they can be available for other fires that may occur, Thrasher said.

“We need to make local firefighters available for that possibility,” he said.

Local crews built a fire line below the blaze to keep it from spreading downhill toward the highway, he said. Crews are also keeping a close eye on the blaze to make sure it doesn’t threaten the Benedict Huts, a pair of 10th Mountain Division ski huts atop Smuggler Mountain.

janet@aspentimes.com