Controlled burn may start today
The timing is right for a good fire in East Vail.
A combination of weather and other factors means it may finally be time for a controlled burn of sagebrush and debris piles on a 22-acre piece of land in the Booth Creek Falls area north of Interstate 70 in East Vail. The burn zone is town property that borders the national forest.
The project, which has been on the books since 1998, must meet several strict criteria before the first match is set.
Student firefighters were clearing brush in the area Thursday. In addition, the burn has been planned for a narrow period in the spring when a number of weather and other environmental factors are present, including ground moisture, humidity in the air, cool temperatures and, of course, no wind. If there’s a steady wind of more than 10 mph, or gusts of more than 30 mph, the burn won’t go, Vail Fire chief John Gulick said Thursday.
If the wind cooperates, the burn may start today. If not, the burn may be rescheduled for any time between today and Wednesday.
Every precaution is being taken to ensure the fire behaves as intended, Gulick said. In addition, crews from Vail, the Eagle River Fire Protection District, the Greater Eagle Fire Protection District and Gypsum Fire Department will be on hand to monitor conditions.
“The risk to homes is very low,” Gulick said.
The closest homes to the burn zone are along Katsos Ranch Road and at the Falls condominiums. Those homeowners have all been contacted, Gulick said.
While fire crews will be on hand, Steve Prawdzik, property manager of the nearby Booth Falls Townhomes, said there is some concern about the project.
The townhomes are built with wood framing, wood siding and shake-shingle roofs. “Personally, I’m a little concerned,” Prawdzik said. “But I think it’s a good thing. Drought and fire in the west is a reality of living in the west, so it’s good they’re doing something.” Some of the concern Prawdzik has is because “controlled burns” near homes have flared out of control in other areas, most notably near Los Alamos, N.M. in May of 2000.
Gulick said the burn zone should create some valuable “defensible space” in the neighborhood in case there is a wildfire in the future. For firefighters, creating defensible space means trimming or cutting down trees right next to homes, designing landscapes around buildings in a way that will deter fires, and replacing shake shingles with fire-resistant asphalt roofing.
The Falls Condos homeowners association last year replaced the shake shingles on those units, but the fire-prone material abounds throughout Vail, due in large part to the requirements of the town’s Design Review Board.
“We’re trying to get rid of the shake shingle requirement and some landscaping requirements that conflict with the county’s wildland fire regulations,” Gulick said. That means creating less fire-prone areas between town and public lands is particularly important.
While acknowledging the need for defensible space, “I’ll be interested to see what happens,” Prawdzik said. “This is the first time anyone’s done something like this in a resort community.”
One of the things Prawdzik is curious about is the burn mark left on the very visible landscape.
“That hillside will green up in a couple of weeks,” Gulick said.
More important, the burn will offer the neighborhood protection from bigger fires in the future, and should provide better forage for elk, deer and bighorn sheep in the area.
“Fire can be a productive thing,” Gulick said.
While the prescribed burn near Booth Creek Falls has been postponed several times now, Gulick said he’s anxious to get the project done. While the department has worked on defensible space issues with several homeowners and associations, Gulick said, “We really want to get this first controlled burn under our belts.”
Booth Creek burn
What’s on fire: Slash piles and sagebrush in a 22-acre area in East Vail, roughly behind Vail Mountain School. The controlled burn has been planned since 1998.
Why:To cut the danger from uncontrolled wildfires in the future.
Who’s watching it: Fire crews from the Vail, Eagle, Gypsum and Eagle River are on hand.