Prescribed fire planned in Aspen’s Hunter Creek Valley this month

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Pictured from last summer is the south-facing slope above Hunter Creek Valley where the Hummingbird Traverse Trail was constructed. The prescribed burn will cover 1,100 acres on that slope.
Courtesy photo |


What: Open house on Hunter Creek prescribed fire

When: Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m.

Where: Aspen Volunteer Fire Department

Fire helped shape the Aspen-area environment for thousands of years until white settler’s arrived and snuffed every blaze over the past century.

Six governments and conservation groups are teaming to try to restore a bit of balance this month in the Hunter Creek Valley north of Aspen.

Firefighters with the Upper Colorado Interagency Fire Management Unit and Aspen Fire Department will intentionally start fires on a sun-drenched, south-facing slope to burn off decadent vegetation and spur new growth. It will reduce ground fuels that can accelerate fire, and the fire will create better browsing for big game such as deer and elk.

“The burn area is currently mapped out at around 1,100 acres,” said Jamie Werner, forest program director at Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. The targeted slopes are between the valley floor and along the road heading up to Four Corners. The area includes the slope where the Hummingbird Traverse Trail was constructed last summer. Recreational users will be asked to stay out of the area for between one to three days, Werner said.

ACES is teaming with Wilderness Workshop, the city of Aspen, Pitkin County, the U.S. Forest Service and Aspen Fire Department on the project. A video produced by the team describes the project and its goals:

ACES has information posted on its website about the fire:

An open house will also be held Thursday to answer questions about the project.

The prescribed fire is part of the Hunter-Smuggler Cooperative Plan — a land management outline for 4,861 acres of national forest adjacent to Aspen. Previous management efforts included thinning trees and removing noxious weeds.

Loaded Ping-Pong balls

Jim Genung, prescribed fire specialist for the White River National Forest, said a helicopter staging from Smuggler Mine will help ignite the prescribed burn. The chopper will dispense plastic spheres about the shape of a Ping-Pong ball and filled with Glycol. The spheres ignite about 30 seconds after they are dropped from the craft. They start fires after they hit the ground. Ground crews with drip torches also will start blazes.

The effort is being undertaken while the surrounding hillsides are either covered with snow or saturated from melting snow. That will help control the spread of the fire.

Organizers will watch weather conditions and plan the event when winds blow smoke away from Aspen, Genung said. He anticipates the project can be undertaken in mid-to late-April.

The fire won’t char the entire 1,100 acres within the burn boundary, he said. It will create a mosaic pattern — burning more intensely among some of the aspen trees, Gambel Oak and brush then among others.

Living in the West

Genung said federal land managers are using prescribed burns to restore a critical landscape process. Suppression of fires in the Roaring Fork Valley since the 1880s has created tree and brush classes that are the same age. At some point, Genung said, they are going to burn.

“This is about living in the West,” he said. “We need to regain that adaptivity of living with fires around us. This is doing it on our terms.”

This project and other prescribed fires in the Roaring Fork drainage will demonstrate to the public how they can be undertaken effectively and safely, he said.

The Hunter Creek Valley burn will create a break between Aspen and the upper timber in areas such as Woody Creek and Arbaney Gulch, where the Forest Service wants to proceed with projects in the future. “This is kind of the first step,” Genung said.


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