Vail and Eagle County tackling local wildfire, trails projects |

Vail and Eagle County tackling local wildfire, trails projects

The Vail Fire Department started wildfire mitigation work Tuesday afternoon because itwas snowing and raining and the fire won't spread. Vail and Eagle County are working on thinning wildfire fuel in the West Vail and Intermountain areas.
Vail Fire Department |

We’re safe, for now

The Rocky Mountain region is warmer and wetter than usual, and that reduces fire danger, at least for the near future, says the National Interagency Fire Agency.

Above-average snowpack creates below-normal wildland fire potential in the higher elevations of Colorado and northwestern Wyoming through July, the agency said in a report released Tuesday afternoon.

VAIL — You know how it’s a good idea to pay your taxes through the year, instead of jumping around on April 15, screaming like your hair is on fire?

Well, wildfire mitigation is like that, and explains why Vail was doing wildfire prevention work Tuesday, in the rain and snow at the town’s golf course, where nothing will catch fire including your putting and short game.

The Vail Fire Department is already working on wildfire mitigation, and because some of those wildfire-prone areas around the West Vail and Intermountain neighborhoods are not in the town, the Eagle County commissioners Tuesday sent $20,000 to Vail to augment the $748,000 the town has spent throughout the past two years.

“The town is very appreciative of Eagle County’s partnership in this project,” said Mark Novak, Vail fire chief.

Reducing fuel

The purpose is to reduce fuel loading, improve forest health and protect wildlife habitat in the Intermountain area in and around town.

The Intermountain Forestry Health Project has been going on for a decade. It starts with hand thinning 23 acres in and around West Vail and Intermountain, and rolls into some areas of Intermountain and Highland Meadows that are not in the town. The county is supposed to take care of those areas, which is why the county commissioners kicked in $20,000 for the effort. That’ll pay crews to thin another 8.5 acres, Novak said.

The second phase is helicopter logging 57 acres in the area.

The majority of the money and effort will be spent clearing trees killed by the mountain pine beetle epidemic in lodgepole stands near residential areas.

Stands of beetle-killed trees make excellent wildfire fuel, Novak explained. That’s why efforts tend to concentrate on removing them and other fuel from populated areas.

Creating those kinds of fuel breaks makes it possible to accomplish “wildfire behavior goals,” making fires slow or stop, or change directions as they approach a populated area, Novak said.

A little help, please

The Vail Fire Department asked the county for some help for their Intermountain Forest Health Project. Since it’s the county’s responsibility, the commissioners agreed. The Nature Conservancy also came up with some of the remaining money Vail needed.

Vail and the county can help, but residents also need to help themselves. The county offers seminars on how to prepare for wildfires, and how to keep them away from your home, said Eric Lovgren, Eagle County’s wildfire mitigation specialist.

“As things green and the snow melts there is a always a danger of isolated events that can cause damage,” Lovgren said. “All through the year we beat the drum for fire mitigation.”

Luck follows hard work

The Vail area does not suffer from many wildfires, because we’ve been lucky and because of efforts such as these, Novak said. In recent memory, one of the latest was a fire near Stevens Park kicked up about a decade ago.

“Even if we don’t have a fire there this year, eventually we will. That’s why we do everything we can to protect the public beforehand,” Novak said.

Gore Valley Trial repair

The commissioners also agreed to spend $150,000 on trail maintenance for the ECO trails system, part of the $1.5 million Gore Valley Trail project with Vail, the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, and the Colorado Department of Transportation.

The trail runs through Dowd Junction. The part that needs repair runs 450 feet along a narrow strip of land between Gore Creek and Interstate 70.

During the flooding of 2010, high water washed out many of the rocks protecting the base of the retaining wall, which is becoming unstable.

The town of Vail installed a temporary fix to the wall. However, under the trail is a 24-inch sewer line.

For now, Vail’s town staff estimates the total project will cost between $1.5 million and $2.1 million, with the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District splitting the cost.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and

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