Prescribed burns scheduled for Pitkin, Garfield, Eagle, Moffat counties

Rita Clipperton, assistant helicopter module leader for the UCR walks to grab the drip torch during the prescribed burn on Uncle Bob Mountain south of Silt in 2018. Chelsea Self / Post Independent

In an attempt to mitigate potential fire damage this season, the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit announced upcoming plans to conduct prescribed burns in multiple Colorado counties.

“It’s important because we have a lot of fuel built up for wildfires because of years of fire suppression,” U.S. Forest Service Public Information Officer David Boyd said. “This is one way we can help reduce the amount of fuel that’s burnt up.”

The prescribed burns will occur in various locations throughout Garfield, Pitkin, Eagle, Moffat and Mesa counties. Depending on weather conditions, each burn could occur on thousands of acres of federal land in upcoming weeks.

“We will only ignite during conditions that allow us to maintain control of the prescribed fire,” Upper Colorado River Assistant Fire Management Officer Lathan Johnson said in a news release. “We monitor weather and fuels to meet resource objectives with these burns, and we strive for good smoke dispersal to minimize impacts to nearby communities.”

Ideal conditions include less wind so smoke can rise and evaporate quicker, Boyd said. Snow conditions will also be a factor.

With the Grizzly Creek Fire — a 2020 wildland fire that eventually consumed more than 32,000 acres and closed Interstate 70 for days — in the rearview, Boyd predicted another dry summer for 2021.

“Right now, it depends on how much moisture we get in the spring. It’s not just snowpack but spring storms with snow and rain,” he said. “But it’s looking like we could be dry in the summer again and have a busy season.”

UCR firefighter Rita Clipperton established a burn line with a drip torch during a prescribed burn on Uncle Bob Mountain south of Silt in 2018. Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Before igniting the mapped-out areas for a complete burn, Boyd also said Bureau of Land Management firefighters will take soil and moisture samples before conducting small fires to see if the area is ripe for fire spread.

Once the site is deemed ready, federal agencies will deploy helicopters and boots-on-the-ground firefighters to ignite the fires. This involves the helicopters dropping plastic sphere dispensers — or what Boyd described as little ping pong balls that create an incendiary reaction when it hits the ground. Meanwhile, firefighters on the ground will torch vegetation using drip torches.

“Prescribed fires are an important tool available to land managers to create fuel breaks so fire suppression efforts can be more effective, reducing risk to firefighters and nearby communities,” said Larry Sandoval, BLM Colorado River Valley field manager, in a news release.

Boyd said prescribed burns help habitat formation and “they tend to burn in a mosaic patchwork so it creates more diversity for wildlife.”

Another method of reducing natural fuels and mitigating future massive wildfires includes mechanical treatment, Boyd said.

“It’s basically going through a machine,” he said. The method includes thinning trees. “That’s more expensive and it depends on the area and how many people we have and what their just how it’s going.”

Figures provided by Boyd show it typically costs between $20-50 per acre of a prescribed burn.

“As an interagency unit, we continue to collectively focus on areas where we can use prescribed fire as a cost-effective, efficient method to reduce hazardous fuels and improve wildlife habitat,” White River National Forest Deputy Supervisor Lisa Stoeffler said.


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