USA — Lingering snow on the ground and chilly temperatures have led to aproductive winter of slash burning for the Salida district of the United StatesForest Service.
Winter weather has allowed Forest Service managers to burn more aggressivelyknowing that fires are unlikely to spread.
“This has been a good winter for it,” Salida Ranger District AssistantFire Management Officer John Markalunas said. “The (risk of) spread isvirtually nonexistent.”
Burning slash piles is part of the Forest Service’s ongoing wildfire mitigationefforts. It follows a summer of forest thinning.
Crews are focusing on areas around major subdivisions west of U.S. 285 and theArkansas River. They hope to achieve more control over what they call the “wildland/urbaninterface.”
Homeowners are occasionally alarmed by the smoke and embers of the burning, butauthorities are quick to explain the process.
“I get a lot of phone calls,” Markalunas said. “We get peoplereporting it as a wildfire … . There’s a lot of concern that the fire willcome up if it’s windy. But we light when there is very little chance of spread.”
The piles are built in the summer and fall and are about the size of largesport-utility vehicles, Markalunas said. Air quality regulations and changingweather and wind patterns limit the number of piles the Forest Service can burnin a day.
Crews can burn as many as 500 piles during a productive week. So far this winterthey’ve burned more than half the 4,000 piles that were set up within the SalidaRanger District before the winter, Markalunas said.
The Bureau of Land Management and private property owners are also active inslash burning during the winter.
Forest Service burning usually commences about 10 a.m. on good weather days.Crews monitor the piles as they burn, leaving about 5 p.m. and allowing embersto burn out through the night.
They return about 9 a.m. the next morning to make sure the piles are completelyburned out.
“They are safely lit, controlled and monitored,” Markalunas said.”People don’t leave piles until they are mostly burned.”
Areas around the Mesa Antero subdivision in Nathrop and Trail West and GameTrail subdivisions near Buena Vista have seen the most thinning and burningaction. Areas around Ranch of the Rockies subdivision atop Trout Creek Pass andnear Twin Lakes are next on the Forest Service agenda.
Generally, Markalunas said, residents understand why the work is being done andthat it could save their homes in case of wildfire.
“A lot of folks are happy to see the fuel being reduced around the edges ofthe subdivision,” he said. “And this year we’re making really goodprogress.”