Smoke nothing to sweat about, officials say
Don’t be surprised to see smoke from some intense – but controlled – fires this fall and winter, as federal officials say prescribed burns may be lit across the Vail Valley.
The Vail Town Council voted 7-0 last week to enter into an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service, allowing the agency to proceed with wildfire mitigation efforts in the Booth Creek prescribed burn area, known as unit six, located on the north side of Interstate 70.
“There’s still a push to burn,” said Phil Bowden, a U.S. Forest Service fire management officer. “There’s a lot of heavy fuels up there, like deteriorating aspen stands. We’ve had a lot of fires north of the freeway that have had the potential to come into town.”
The burns are being conducted by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Bowden said the Forest Service has set aside $20,000 to be used until September 2004 for hiring personnel to cut and pile logs for burning in the Booth Creek area.
“With this unit, it makes more sense to pile and burn,” Bowden said.
Where there’s smoke …
During burns planned for the Booth Creek and Spraddle Creek areas of Vail, thinning piles will be burned and smoke and flames may be visible from various location in town. Smoke may also settle in lower elevations during the evenings.
“Smoke should go up into the wilderness and not down into the valley,” Bowden said, adding the mitigation efforts started as a wildlife project in 1998 to improve vegetation for bighorn sheep.
Vail Fire Chief John Gulick said property owners in the Vail Valley have been working with the Forest Service and town staff to improve defensible space around their properties.
“We’ve been working for exactly a year up there,” Gulick said, adding that to save money, the project will use volunteers with the Youth Coalition and student firefighters, as well as inmates from corrections facility on work detail.
Councilwoman Diana Donovan said she supported the project, suggesting the town create a way to alert property owners as to when trees are being removed to create defensible space. And Jim Lamont of the Vail Village Homeowners Association said the community must be notified when mitigation efforts – such as cutting or burning of wood piles – are taking place on private property.
“We ask that when the events occur, some notification be given so we don’t have confusion and property owners can adjust,” Lamont said.
The agencies also plan to burn slash piles throughout Eagle County.
Another prescribed fire, known as the Old Man burn, is planned five miles south of Gypsum. In 2001, 3,000 acres were burned, leaving an additional 1,500 acres yet to be burned.
Past burns have shown the prescribed fires promote oak sprouting and create better food for elk and deer. The burns also reduce the amount of “natural fuels” on the ground and therefore, should cut the risk of wildland fires.
The burns will most likely occur in the coming weeks and months. They are, however, highly weather-dependent and may be postponed until the spring.
For more information, call Gulick at 479-2253. People who have health problems that are aggravated by smoke and want to be personally notified before fires are set can contact Bowden or Eric Rebitzke at 328-6388.
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