Forest Service to ignite area-wide beetle blazes

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Starting Monday, smoke in the Routt National Forest doesn't automatically mean wildfire.

The U.S. Forest Service will burn piles of spruce beetle-infested trees in scenic corridor areas to suppress an infestation of the insect, weather permitting.

Crews also will burn piles of slash timber in harvest-sale areas to reduce fuel loads to prevent wildfire.

"This will be happening sporadically," Forest Service spokeswoman Denise Germann said. "When the weather window opens, we will be taking advantage."

Good burning weather means high humidity or rain and snow. Typically, the piles are covered with a flammable gel and burned.

Forest Service silviculturalist Larry Kent said as far as the beetle-infested piles go, there are about 100 that need burning at the Steamboat Ski Resort and on Buffalo Pass.

Twenty piles were made with heavy equipment and are about nine-feet high and 15-feet wide. Around 80 piles are hand made and are four-feet high and five-feet across.

All that needs to burn in those piles is the bark on the trees because that's where the spruce beetle lives.

"This is pretty routine for us," Kent said. "We have a lot of experience doing this."

Most of the beetle piles are leftover from burning that was scheduled to happen last year. Weather didn't permit the Forest Service to finish, so crews are doing the burning this year, Germann said.

Forest Service fire planner Glenn Webb estimated about 150 piles of slash timber to be burned in a variety of different places.

"I don't think we'll see too much much impact from smoke in town," Webb said.

If moist weather sticks around, burning could start on Monday and as many as 25 piles could go up in smoke, Webb said.

If the weather stays consistent, it could only take a week to burn all the piles of wood, he added.

"Our first priority is on the ski area and Buffalo Pass," Kent said.

From there, up to 30 Forest Service employees will be at different parts of the county to do the burning, he said.

To reach Doug Crowl call 871-4206

or e-mail dcrowl@amigo.net

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