Get your slash piles ready, Summit County’s popular wood chipping program will be back June 25 | SummitDaily.com

Get your slash piles ready, Summit County’s popular wood chipping program will be back June 25

A wood chipper in operation at the SCRAP facility April 18, in Dillon. Summit County's chipping program comes back June 25.

Back in 2010, County Commissioner Dan Gibbs was working as a wildland firefighter during the Fourmile Canyon fire in Boulder County. The fire destroyed 169 homes and caused $217 million worth of damage, at the time the most expensive wildfire in state history. As Gibbs surveyed the destruction on patrol, he noticed something right away.

"I saw firsthand the dramatic difference between homes that had defensible space around them," Gibbs said. "In many cases, many homes with defensible space were ones that survived, but many homes that didn't clear brush burned. Not only burned, they burned down to the ground where you just see the foundation and the fireplace."

Gibbs tells this story to make it clear that defensible spaces work to protect homes. To help homeowners with that onerous but important chore, Summit County's chipping program will be returning on June 25. The 14-week program will have a contractor with a wood chipper go down every street in the county and either chip slash piles on-site or haul them away for processing for free, paid by funds alloted through Referred Measure 1A back in 2008.

Since the chipping program started back in 2014, nearly 8,000 homes or 46 percent of all single-family homes in the county have participated in the program. So far, 21,300 cubic yards of wood chips have been processed, all going to good use either at the biomass power plant in Gypsum or for mine reclamation work at Climax Mine.

Summit County CSU Extension agent Dan Schroder said that the program has been very successful in Summit County, and wants that success to keep building. To that end, he has a few tips for homeowners about how to go about participating in the program.

First, make sure the slash pile contains only trees and tree materials, such as branches and logs. The chipping program won't accept shrubs, pine needles or building materials due to risk of breakage or clogging.

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Second, make sure to put your pile out by or before Monday, June 25. While the chipping contractor will visit every street twice during the 14 weeks, when you get your slash pile out could determine whether it's processed.

"We're going to work the whole area all week long, but we won't do laps around each neighborhood to make sure everyone gets their piles out," Schroder said. "If homeowners put wood out behind us, we'll never know it happened and not pick it up."

As far as when to expect the chipping trailer, there is a detailed schedule for subdivisions available at co.summit.co.us/885/Chipping-Program.

The county and towns are split into northern and southern halves, and homeowners are encouraged to check what weeks to expect the chipping truck in their area.

Finally, when putting out slash piles, homeowners should not impede pedestrian or vehicular traffic, or block drainage ditches. Slash piles should also be placed curbside in an area where the chipper can actually reach them.

"What we have here is a truck pulling a box trailer that is pulling a chipper," Schroder said. "I often ask people to imagine a truck pulling a ski boat, and how hard it would be to turn it around in someone's driveway."

Additionally, the Summit Association of Realtors will be helping out homeowners with the chipping program by sending volunteers to pick up fuel and put it curbside. The assistance is aimed toward homeowners who are unable to create defensible spaces on their own, either because they are seniors without help or families who are just overwhelmed by how much work needs to be done.

SAR executive director Sarah Thorsteinson said the assistance is a great way for homeowners to keep their homes safe and more marketable while letting her group contribute something back to the Summit community. The association is also sending wildfire education literature to every home in the country to advise them how to be fire-aware and safe.

"Summit County has the most homes in a WUI (Wildland-Urban Interface) in the state, with over 22,000 properties," Thorsteinson said. "We felt like it was a great opportunity for Realtors to reach out and engage with homeowners to say, hey, you should take care of your property, wildfire is huge possibility in the county. We then follow that up by helping folks who need help to create defensible space around their homes."

Thorsteinson added that the association has a grant program to help homeowners pay for defensive space mitigation on their property. To apply for the grant or to ask for volunteer assistance, dial the SRA office directly at 970-468-8700.