Fire fighting fire above Vail |

Fire fighting fire above Vail

Cliff Thompson
NWS Spraddle Burn4 BH 11-5

The crews had to wait for the proper conditions – snow and a southwest wind – to begin burning the piles which are each the size of a small automobile. The conditions help prevent the fire from spreading and also keeps the smoke from darkening the valley floor.

The burn permit issued by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment allows 32 of the 300 or so piles to be burned twice a week, said Phil Bowden, a federal interagency fire officer. It’s based on wind direction and type of fuel being burned as well as a computer model provided to the health department by the Forest Service.

“We try to build (the piles) small so they burn more quickly and don’t smoke,” he said. “We also use leaf blowers to increase the heat, like in a blast furnace.”

The burn area Wednesday was on approximately 100 acres immediately north of the Spraddle Creek subdivision. If conditions permit, more piles will be burned on a 70-acre parcel near Pitkin and Booth creeks, Bowden said.

Most of the trees and brush being burned were felled two summers ago both to reduce fire anger and to enhance deer, elk and bighorn sheep habitat.

“There’s a lot of logs and heavy limbs up there,” Bowden said. “It will help reduce the fuel loading.”

The project is part of a controversial broadcast prescribed burn that was modified after adjacent property owners expressed their concern about the potential for property damage if the fire escaped containment.

Cutting and piling allows smaller, more easily controlled fires to be used. The cutting has the added benefit of helping aging aspen stands regenerate with new sprouts.

Aspen stand can act as a natural firebreak in all but the driest conditions, firefighters say.

Cliff Thompson can be reached at 970-949-0555 x450 or

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