Ruby Ranch, Frisco likely to see transformative fuel mitigation projects
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct Ashley Garrison’s name.
Homeowners have the power to prevent wildfires, and many in Ruby Ranch, Frisco, Keystone, and Breckenridge are one step closer to mitigating the risks. The Summit County Wildfire Council approved several projects across the county Thursday.
The council, comprised of town councilors, fire fighters, homeowners-association officials and residents voiced support for allocating over $1.1 million in Hazardous Fuels Reduction Grants to fuel reduction projects as part of a match grant.
Ruby Ranch was the largest project to get support, garnering about $200,000 for its $400,000 project. After years of environmental analysis, the residents of Ruby Ranch have poised themselves to create a 200 foot wide fuel break to protect 52 homes. The fuel break helps firefighters by creating a safe space to battle fires.
“It’s just jackstraw out there,” Dillon Ranger District fuels specialist Kay Gray said. “There’s like 20 live trees. It’s kind of a nightmare in the wilderness out there.”
If granted the money, work would begin in July to clear 28 acres, and the project would finish in about 45 days. The fuel removed would be burned in the winter of 2022-23. The U.S. Forest Service is preparing an operating plan.
The per-acre cost is fairly high at $9,100. The cut encroaches on designated wilderness, where no motorized tools may be used, so everything must be cut by hand.
A $58,000 environmental analysis began in 2021, which Ashley Garrison said was actually under the report’s original $75,000 budget. The Forest Service approved the analysis.
Seeking support rather than approval, the Town of Frisco presented unfinished plans for fire mitigation and trail maintenance in the Miner’s Creek area, informally called “Frisco’s Backyard.” Trees and wildfire fuels would be thinned far into the Miner’s Creek area, beyond the reach of Frisco’s borders. The backyard project would also include improvements to hiking and biking trails in the area.
“We’ve looked at combining the fuel reduction aspects with recreational improvements in the Frisco backyard areas,” Frisco Senior Planner Susan Lee said. She said the project is in the planning phase, with Frisco-based SE Group developing a proposal for the Forest Service.
Lee said the original map of the project encompassed a 300-acre area along the southern outskirts of Frisco, but after meeting with the Forest Service, the map expanded to include most of Miner’s Creek gulch, with the southern tip near the edge of the Peak 2 Fire burn area.
Explaining why the area was increased, Gray said, “When you think about that area, and how a fire is likely to start, more than likely it’s going to be from someone dispersed camping out down Miner’s Creek.”
She also added it would be more efficient than coming back 10 years from now to get a second approval for the expansion.
Town councilor Andy Held also clarified the first 300 acre plan was an arbitrary map he made so the town could have a starting point.
Held said the town already committed $250,000 to the project. “And we’re willing to put in much more,” he said.
Lee and the Town of Frisco approached the council with the intention of expanding the project’s scope even further.
“I would encourage anyone who’s curious, just take a Google Earth view of the town of Frisco,” Summit Fire & EMS spokesperson Steve Lipsher said. “It’s a beautiful tree city. And I have a great fear that Mount Royal or Wichita Mountain is going to catch fire and shower the Town of Frisco with a pretty heavy ember storm and the fire is going to blow right through.”
He voiced support for the planned fuel break.
“Also, as a non-government mountain biker, the trail improvements out there are pretty cool,” Gray said.
The council approved two other planned fuel mitigation projects in Keystone, and multiple members of the council hoped the projects would stoke Vail Resorts to take up similar efforts on its property.
The council characterized the projects as a toe-in-the-door situation. The actions of one property owner could spur a neighbor to do the same, Red, White & Blue Captain Matt Benedict said.
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