Defensible space saving homes at Colorado fires |

Defensible space saving homes at Colorado fires

Bill Gossard uses a chainsaw to cut down a lodgepole pine tree at the Steamboat Ski Area alongside the Main Drag ski trail as part of a 100-acre logging project to remove beetle-killed lodgepole pine trees.
Matt Stensland

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Mitigation work and other steps taken to protect property from wildfires have paid off at wildfires burning in Colorado.

No structures have been lost at either the 416 Fire near Durango or the Buffalo Mountain Fire that started Wednesday near Silverthorne. At that fire, nearly 1,400 homes were evacuated, and the fire created spot fires within 250 feet of homes.

For more than a decade, fire mitigation and creating defensible space around homes has been a priority in Routt County after the mountain pine beetle nearly wiped out the population of lodgepole pine trees.

The needles on the dead trees turned red, and the stands of trees became tinder boxes.

Steamboat Ski Area did considerable work to remove dead trees on the ski mountain, and local fire districts worked with the Colorado State Forest Service and federal land partners to develop community wildfire protection plans and remove the dead timber. Grant dollars helped pay for the projects.

“In that plan, they identified a lot of projects to mitigate along subdivision boundaries and private property boundaries with the forest,” North Routt Fire Protection District Chief Mike Swinsick said. “Since then, a lot of those projects have been completed. There are still some that are in progress.”

A lot of work was done to remove conifer trees along U.S. Forest Service roads, which encouraged aspen trees to grow instead.

“Ranchers and property owners have been doing a lot of their own work,” Swinsick said. “I think there is still a lot of work to be done, but I think overall they did a lot to put a dent in what was in the original plan.”

Open burning was allowed during certain parts of the year, which gave landowners a way to dispose of brush and slash piles. Swinsick said the fire district worked closely with landowners to decide what and when to burn.

The North Routt Fire District has been able to add some tools to their arsenal should a fire break out, such as a side-by-side vehicle equipped with a water tank and pump that will allow them to attack fires in rugged areas.

Every year, when July approaches and the landscape begins to dry out, attitudes shift in forested neighborhoods, especially after an active fire season like the one in 2017.

“I would say the overall mood is they are a little nervous,” Swinsick said. “There have been a few folks asking why we haven’t put restrictions in place, yet. Those conversations are going to start happening next week with all the federal partners and local chiefs.”

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland.

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