U.S. Forest Service gets credit for fuel breaks that stopped Buffalo Mountain fire

Summit Daily staff report

Proactive work by the U.S. Forest Service to build fuel breaks went a long way to protecting a billion dollars worth of property during the Buffalo Mountain Fire last week.

“The fuel breaks reduced the number of trees available to burn next to homes; gave firefighters safe spots to aggressively fight the fire; and provided for effective fire-retardant drop zones,” said Dillon ranger Bill Jackson in a Forest Service press release. “Without the proactive forest treatments, we likely would have lost homes.”

These fuel breaks are 300- to 500-foot wide open spaces developed between the forest and subdivisions where lodgepole pine trees that had been killed by the mountain pine beetle once stood, ripe for ignition.

The fuel breaks were built as part of larger proactive forest management programs in Summit County and throughout the watershed around the Dillon Reservoir.

“Wildfires don’t know boundaries, so when it comes to forest management in Denver Water’s priority watersheds, we take an all hands, all lands approach,” said Christina Burri, watershed scientist at Denver Water. “By partnering with all the land owners, from federal, state, local and private, we’re able to better protect all of our interests from catastrophic wildfires and extend our investment and reach throughout the entire area.”

One such partnership is the From Forests to Faucets program, which is a forest management partnership that was created in 2010 between Denver Water and the Rocky Mountain Region of the USDA Forest Service. Since 2010, Denver Water and the USDA Forest Service have invested approximately $33 million for treatments across 70,000 acres.

In this case, the Forest Service was able to invest in 900 acres of hazardous fuels reduction projects next to the Wildernest and Mesa Cortina neighborhoods above Silverthorne, projects that saved an estimated $913 million worth of homes and infrastructure from the Buffalo Fire.

“The goal of our treatments isn’t to stop fire, it’s to prevent large catastrophic wildfires,” said Erin Connelly, supervisor, Pike/San Isabel National Forest, USDA Forest Service. “Fires are an important part of the ecosystem, so we want to treat the forests to promote smaller, beneficial fires and prevent large ones that have devastating impacts on communities, wildlife, recreation and water supply.”

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