Preparing for wildfire season
The odds of a large-scale wildfire event happening in Summit County fall somewhere in the realm of a 100-year flood, according to Dillon District Ranger Rick Newton with the U.S. Forest Service. A window of about two weeks occurs every summer when conditions are ripe for such a disaster, and only 3 percent of the county’s weather patterns provide the necessary clear skies and wind, meaning a countywide wildfire is not very likely.Yet, some factors are aligning to increase the danger: Standing dead trees that have succumbed to mountain pine beetle infestation are adding potential fuel, and the five-year drought is drying up other forest vegetation.
“We have lots of fuel,” Newton said of the many brown trees that evidence widespread beetle kill. “All we need is dry, windy weather and the ignition.”Funds are not available for the federal agency to completely mitigate wildfire dangers, so Newton is strategically treating Summit County forests close to populated areas. It is an attempt to create “defensible space,” or a buffer between communities in the valley bottoms and the surrounding hundreds of acres of forest, where a wildfire is likely to ignite and be allowed to burn.”A bunch of this is natural process that we have to let go,” Newton said of the beetle kill and resulting increased fire danger. “Where we can – the interaction between forest lands and private lands – that will be our focus.”
The agency is heading up four projects this summer on public lands:- Dillon Reservoir campgrounds – Various campgrounds around the reservoir are being treated through a service contract with a private company. Dead trees and slash are removed to reduce forest fuels. Total acres: 169- Iron Springs – The Forest Service is conducting a timber sale in an area adjacent to the county’s open space parcel located near Farmer’s Korner. Trees will be cut to promote new and more diverse vegetation growth. Total acres: 138
– Upper Blue – A project slated to take six years will remove 2.5 million board feet of timber, obliterate 2.2 miles of road and fix parts of other roads within the forest. Sixty acres of forest will be replanted with Douglas fir and ponderosa pine. Total acres: 314 – Lower Blue – The Forest Service is working in the Wildernest subdivision area to create defensible space between private property and Wilderness areas. Stands of trees are being thinned and slash piles burned by a private contractor. Total acres: About 80The projects affect a fraction of the county’s 315,000 acres of public forest lands. There is not enough money to treat more, Newton said.”You have to put it in the context of millions of acres the federal government manages,” he said. “It’s not realistic to have an expectation that we’ll be able to dedicate great gobs of money locally.”
Federal money is available through the 2003 Healthy Forests Restoration Act to pay for fire mitigation projects in Summit County, but according to the law, the community must first prepare a Community Wildfire Protection Plan before it sees the money flow.Summit County governments, elected officials, law enforcement agencies, fire authorities and others are working with the Forest Service to write the plan. Once it is adopted, the community will be set up to receive more funds that could pay for more forest treatments in future years.Kim Marquis can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 249, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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