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Firefighters quell small blaze in spot where prescribed burn is planned

Aspen Times Staff Reports

Federal firefighters mopped up the small blaze on Basalt Mountain over the weekend. Ironically, they will be back in the spring to start, rather than to snuff, a fire.

The fire broke out last Thursday and grew to 10 acres in just a couple of hours. The fire was fully contained by Saturday evening, and the damage was limited to 11 acres. Firefighters were expected to remain on the scene throughout the weekend to monitor the fire and mop any flare-ups that occurred within the interior.

Although the fire never threatened any structures, conditions in the area are so dry that the federal government’s Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit didn’t want to risk the fire breaking out. It devoted ground crews of 50 firefighters and used, at various times, two single-engine air tankers and a helicopter that dumped buckets of water on the blaze.

The federal firefighters were assisted by the Basalt Fire Department.

The 11-acre patch that was burned is within a broader area where a prescribed burn is planned next spring. A prescribed burn is planned on 2,800 acres of Basalt Mountain that’s managed by the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

That prescribed burn, which will be carefully monitored by federal and local firefighters, is designed to reduce the fuels available for a wildfire and improve wildlife habitat. The feds will undertake the project in spring 2004 if conditions are favorable.

Using fire in a prescribed burn is not only safer but also cheaper than letting a wildfire burn, according to a press release from the interagency fire management team.

“Economically, treating an area with prescribed fire costs about $30 per acre where suppression of a wildfire costs at least $5,000 per acre,” the press release said.

While the fire didn’t burn within one mile of structures on Missouri Heights, homeowners reported that smoke drifted into their houses and stung their eyes.

Lightning sparked a small fire on west Basalt Mountain Wednesday evening. Federal and local crews snuffed that fire by Thursday afternoon but a second fire broke out a short distance away that same day. The second fire drew a lot of attention because it sent a smoke plume high into the air.

Air tankers dropped retardant on the fire Thursday evening and substantially slowed its progress. Two ground teams of 20 members each hit the fire on Friday. They had it 50 percent contained by Friday afternoon and 80 percent contained by Saturday at noon.

Full containment was achieved by Saturday afternoon, then firefighters mopped up hot spots. A closure kept mountain bikers and other recreationists away from some of the roads and trails in the network on Basalt Mountain but the closure was expected to be lifted this week.


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