Summit County’s required 30-foot zone between homes and forest still puts homes at risk of wildfires, fire officials say
U.S. Forest Service plans one-day closure at Keystone Shooting Range, reminding county of value in prescribed burns, mitigation
In the near future, there will be a prescribed burn in the open space near Keystone Shooting Range.
Friends of the Dillon Ranger District hosted a walk through of Keystone to give residents and visitors a tour of what wildfire mitigation looks like in the White River National Forest.
They started at Keystone Gulch, where representatives of the Dillon Ranger District, the White River National Forest, Colorado State Forest Service and even some of the county’s local fire fighters educated participants about controlled burns.
Then, the tour took a twist. Steve Lipsher, the public information officer of Summit Fire & EMS, led the group to a neighborhood just outside of Keystone off of Montezuma Road.
Kat Grey, fuel planner for the White River National Forest, stood in front of what Lipsher pointed out was a multi-million dollar home. Behind the house, dark green spruce pines towered 60 feet high, only yards away from the walls of multiple homes.
“I think it’s awesome that we’re standing out in what we think of as the forest and then standing here in this neighborhood that you don’t really think of as a burnable fuel,” Grey said.
Lipsher pointed out that Summit County has a blanket policy that allows home construction only 30 feet away from forest, which can be very dangerous. He wanted to highlight the fact that Summit County, with nearly 80% of federal land designation, is built on and within beautiful — although at times dangerous — Colorado forests.
This includes the Keystone Shooting Range off of Landfill Road.
Behind Keystone shooting range is a south facing hill of open space with high grasses and vegetation. In April of 2021, a wildfire broke out in the area, closing the shooting range temporarily.
Grey said while the shooting range is an important resource to prevent people from shooting in the national forest, there have been three fires in the past 10 years in the area.
According to Grey, the U.S. Forest Service is “almost done” with their analysis of how they plan to conduct the prescribed burn on the hillside.
The fire will cover 44 acres, and will most likely take place next spring, Grey said.
“That way next time someone’s out there at the shooting range with an incendiary round and it starts a little fire, there’s not really much there for that fire to burn,” Grey said. “So it’s going to burn slower, less intense, gives our firefighters time to get out there and stop it before it gets up in that timber.”
The fire would shut down the shooting range temporarily. Grey said they would need a couple of days for preparation and then one full day for the fire to burn.
Grey said that fires happen every three to four years at the shooting range, so they plan to turn the prescribed burn at the range into a “cyclical” process to keep fires under their control. There are other advantages to a controlled burn in the area.
“Another secondary benefit of getting fire out there on the ground is it will actually cause those Aspen to send up their suckers and could get a nice healthy Aspen stand out there again,” Grey said.
Lipsher said some folks in Summit County express frustration about the cost of fires and the process of conducting prescribed burns. However, Grey brought up a common saying, that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
District ranger for the Dillon Ranger District Adam Bianchi said the Ptarmigan fire in the fall of 2021 cost up to $2 million, whereas the prescribed burn plan of the Keystone shooting range has a budget of $60,000.
“I think the main takeaway is that piece of land is going to keep burning in one way or another,” Grey said. “It’s either going to be unplanned in the middle of summer when there’s a lot of large fires and our firefighters are spread all over the place, or it’ll be in the spring or the fall when conditions are a lot wetter, we have our holding features in place and firefighters already out there.”
Lipsher argued the importance of controlled burns and wildfire mitigation goes beyond even the environmental benefits. At the beginning of the tour, as the group stood at the entrance of Keystone Gulch, Lipsher pointed to the east, at the flank of Keystone Mountain.
Ten years ago, a fire was caused by a powerline that fell over near Keystone Gulch.
“It threatened this little neighborhood,” Lipsher pointed north to a community across the road. “A ton of infrastructure is at stake here, and resources,” Lipsher said.
Dan Schroder of the Summit Wildfire Council challenged the group to pay attention to how Summit County pays homage to fires that have happened in the past. He mentioned Peak 9 in Breckenridge, named “Inferno,” and the north facing aspect of Peak 10 named “The Burn.”
“It reminds us that it does occur.” Schroder said. “And we put neighborhoods right in the middle of where it occurs. And these are amazing neighborhoods. … We all move to Summit County, or are visitors, to be within the forest. It’s just a matter of diligence.”
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