Park tackles dead trees, and smoke |

Park tackles dead trees, and smoke

Tonya Bina
Grand County correspondent
Aspen CO Colorado
Winter Park uses an "air curtain burner" that emits less smoke when disposing of dead trees and forest debris. (Byron Hetzler/Sky Hi News)

WINTER PARK, Colo. ” The impact of the mountain pine beetle may have doubled over last year’s 40,000 acres in Rocky Mountain National Park, officials estimate.

“We’re not going to be out of the woods for another five to 10 years,” said Jeff Connor, the natural resource specialist for the park who has overseen the forest health program the last five years.

So to help with disposal of the substantial amount of wood that comes along with tree-removal projects within park boundaries, the park purchased an “air curtain burner” last month. The 300-foot long, 12-foot wide fire box can burn as much as four to 10 tons of wood per hour.

The park chose the state-of-the-art equipment, which cost $81,000, for its ability to burn cleanly. Especially on the east side of the park, air quality has long been a concern with nitrogen deposition on the rise.

The air curtain reduces smoke and particulate emissions by about 90 percent when it runs at full capacity, which is around 1,500 degrees fahrenheit.

“It’s part of our commitment to keeping the park clean,” Connor said.

Wood, slash and at times noxious weeds sit in the fire box while a curtain of air sits over the top of it. An air blowing system circulates air below, keeping smoke and heat contained in the fire box to help burn fuels and compound heat.

Connor said the box takes about an hour to heat up.

“It creates smoke when you first light it up in the morning. Once fuels are cooking well, you won’t see any smoke at all,” he said.

A large burn is reduced to nothing but ash.

Next spring, the new air curtain burner will be transported to the west side of the park to a site in the Kawuneeche Valley. The box is presently on the east side where crews are removing and burning about 300 dead or dying trees in the Timber Creek campground.

“There will be no clear cutting of the forest,” said Mark McCutcheon, Colorado River district ranger, but “fire crews will come in and thin out dead and dying lodgepoles along boundaries.”

Park crews already have been working with property owners along the boundary to remove trees more likely to burn in a fire, he said.

The air curtain burner will also be available to the town of Grand Lake next summer, McCutcheon said.

“We want to be good and caring neighbors with gateway communities including Grand Lake,” he said.

The burner would be available to private landowners in town who want to removing dead trees and other flammalbe brush from their property, Grand Lake Town Manager Shane Hale said.