Planned burn on Basalt Mtn. may be bigger |

Planned burn on Basalt Mtn. may be bigger

Scott Condon
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A prescribed burn designed to reduce the wildfire risk on 2,800 acres of Basalt Mountain could end up charring an area almost twice that size, according to federal government planners.

While the burn will target 2,800 acres where natural fuels have reached dangerous levels, it would be allowed to spread on as much as 5,335 acres before firefighters would put it out, according to Frankie Romero, a fire chief with the federal Upper Colorado Fire Management Unit.

“We don’t really have a line in the sand, so to speak, where we want the fire to stop,” he said. At least, there’s no line within what’s known as the “maximum allowable area.”

When planning a prescribed burn, firefighters look at core land known as the “primary ignition areas.” In this case, that’s an area of about 2,800 acres on Basalt Mountain’s waist – a band between the 7,400- and 8,600-foot elevation. It includes lands held by the Colorado Division of Wildlife, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service.

Imagine a bigger circle drawn on the mountain, one that surrounds the primary ignition area and adds terrain. The additional land within that circle comprises the “maximum allowable area” that the fire will be allowed to burn.

It isn’t necessarily targeted for the prescribed burn, but if the fire goes in that terrain, firefighters won’t stop it. “We would give it freedom to burn what it’s going to burn,” said Romero.

A written description of the proposed project from the Forest Service says, “The total maximum allowable area is 5,335 acres in size but it is not likely that the entire area would be affected. The actual area affected by the fire throughout the project area will most likely be between 3,000 and 4,000 acres.”

In the case of Basalt Mountain, the firefighters will dig a fire break on the bottom end of the targeted area, to make sure the fire doesn’t sneak down toward homes in the area between Basalt and El Jebel. But on the higher side, they will give the fire “wiggle room,” Romero said.

Snow lines and depressions that stay moist will be used as natural fire breaks. The elevation where aspen trees appear on Basalt Mountain will also be used as a fire break.

If approved, the project will start in spring 2004. It will take between two and five years. The amount to be burned each year will depend on weather and environmental conditions.

Romero said the timing of the project is vital. There must be snow in the aspen and spruce belt to provide a natural break and prevent the fire from spreading in the thick fir stands of the upper mountain.

Probably 15 to 25 firefighters will monitor the burn. They will burn into the wind, or against it, to keep the flames from spreading too far, too fast.

Questions about the project should be directed to Frankie Romero at 970-625-2872.

The Forest Service is accepting public comment on the proposal until June 20. Comments can be sent to Bill Westbrook, Sopris District Ranger, 620 Main St., Carbondale, CO 81623.

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