‘Red Zone’ residents get proactive
SUMMIT COUNTY – While recent rains have dampened short-term fire concerns in Summit County, several neighborhoods in the area fall squarely into the so-called Red Zone, where a dense buildup of forest fuels close to clusters of homes could combine for dangerous, destructive blazes when dry conditions return. The forests around the Mesa Cortina and Wildernest neighborhoods, for example, have been identified as high-risk zones, where an intense crown fire could sweep from the Eagles Nest Wilderness into the residential area.But some of these at-risk areas could become just a little bit safer during the next few months, as the U.S. Forest Service moves ahead with the Summit Wildland-Urban Interface project, a cooperative venture between the U.S. Forest Service, the local homeowners’ associations, Colorado State Forest Service and Summit County.Dillon District Ranger Rick Newton signed off on the wildfire mitigation project on July 21. Forest planner Peech Keller said the agency is already preparing contracts to remove fuels by the end of this summer in at least parts of a 4-mile-long, 200-foot-wide swath around the Wildernest and Mesa Cortina subdivisions, near Silverthorne. About 88 acres will be treated during the next five years. About 5.7 acres of winter lynx foraging habitat that’s not within 200 feet of any structures will not be treated. The work could also reduce the danger of fire moving from private land to adjacent national forest lands, the decision memo explains. Along with clearing ground and intermediate level fuels, the forest will eventually be thinned to a spacing of 10 to 15 feet between crowns, and aspen growth, which can act as a natural firebreak, will be encouraged to promote forest diversity.Keller said the treatment will not be visible as a 200-foot-wide clear cut. In the zone, crews will reduce the canopy base height, thin trees and reduce ground fuels to reduce fire intensity, rate of spread and the potential for a crown fire. The fuel reduction efforts on National Forest land can’t “fireproof” the forest; the goal is to improve firefighter effectiveness, according to the Forest Service.”We’re working on the contract (for the project) right now, and the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District has a volunteer work day planned for Aug. 14,” Keller said. “Hopefully, the Colorado State Forest Service will work with property owners to do work on their side of the line.” The new Forest Service Friends group hopes to round up as many as 50 volunteers for the fire mitigation work.No illusionsHomeowners should be under no illusions that the 200-foot zone on National Forest land is a secure fire break, said Patti Maguire. As the lead for wildfire mitigation on the local level, Maguire works closely with homeowner groups and fire officials to encourage firewise planning on private property.”My goal would be to help them (Wildernest and Mesa Cortina property owners) organize a work day,” Maguire said. “It has a lot of the problems you’d look for in a Red Zone,” she said. “They need to get their ducks in a row – defensible space, firefighter access.” Maguire said fire crews monitored a small lightning-sparked fire in the vicinity last week. Only one tree caught fire, but a sudden turn to hot and windy weather could have made conditions hazardous, especially with grasses grown tall by the summer rains. In some areas, Maguire said homeowners leave those grasses growing dangerously close to wood siding. “Everybody likes that natural look,” Maguire said, emphasizing the need to clear flammables away from the sides of houses, including grasses, dry brush and downed timber.Conservation activists for the most part commented favorably on the Wildernest-Mesa Cortina plan. A letter written by the American Lands Alliance earlier this year stated that the proposal clearly differentiates “between fuel treatments to restore ecological integrity and treatments designed to protect property and lives by reducing fuels in the Community Defensive Zone (the forested area immediately surrounding communities-at-risk from forest fire).”Property owners in the area saw the plans last spring at the Buffalo Mountain Metropolitan District homeowners association board meeting, at the Mesa Cortina homeowners meeting in February, and at the Wildernest homeowners meeting on March 6.For additional information concerning this project, contact Eric Rebitzke, Assistant Fire Management Officer, Eagle Ranger District, P.O. Box 720, Eagle, CO 81631, or at (970) 328-6388.Bob Berwyn can be contacted at email@example.com.
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