A sign of an apocalypse
The little fire this week in Summit County should throw a scare into us all.Ground still a bit damp from recent rain. End of the fire season, with shorter, cooler days. Not much wind. This thing should have dinked around. A boot scuff should have helped put it out. Sure, that’s an exaggeration, but not all that much of one.Instead lodgepole pines torched and the blaze spread with amazing quickness for the conditions. Flames shot up to 200 feet high, witnesses said.Imagine if it were still summer with some wind. This fire would not have stopped at a dozen acres.Why did it burn so hot? Ask the beetles. Their growing infestation killed the trees that went up like Roman candles.This outbreak, which began in 1998 or ’99, has basically swept along no matter human puny efforts to stop it. It’s natural, too, we’re told. Logging dating back to the mining days now have left large stands of trees growing old together. What’s good for marriage isn’t so good for trees. Aging trees become vulnerable to insects, such as the pine beetle. Now millions of acres of trees stand dead, ready for Mother Nature’s special brand of cleansing. Some heat, some drought, some lightning. … It’s just a matter of time.Vail and the forest surrounding Eagle County’s headwaters community lies in the thick of the beetle kill. Barring extended deep cold in winter, something we haven’t had in about forever now, the beetles will munch their way along for at least a few more years, leaving those tell-tale red needled-sticks behind them. But notice how younger, healthier stands of pine resist the insects. Too bad there aren’t more of them, or that so much of the forest is about the same, old age.So, what to do? Well, first recognize that the trees need to be cleared out, one way or the other. Do nothing, as some environmentalists recommend, and you might as well take a trip to Trappers Lake and look over those 23,000 acres thatburned so hot in 2002 that little is growing in an immense forest graveyard today. That’s your Colorado Wild! solution. Go ahead. Take a good, long look.Or put logging back in the Forest Service toolbox, along with more prescribed burns. That is, using fire on our timetable to knock down the chance of conflagurations if left to the seasons. We created this mess. We’ll need to ease it if there’s to be any happy solution for our mountain communities.Otherwise – or perhaps even so – that little fire at Farmers Korner is a frightening herald of what’s to come. Vail, Colorado
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