Forest fire plan discussed

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— Though attendance was light at the four public meetings this past week about a plan to reduce the chances of forest fires destroying private property, U.S. Forest Service officials still addressed important concerns.

"There is certainly some concern about the actions we can take," said Andy Cadenhead, a Forest Service fire suppression team leader.

Locally, the plan will consist of burning and other fuel-reduction practices on 2,732 acres east and north of Steamboat Springs and 2,177 acres near Stagecoach over a five- to 10-year timeframe.

Both spots in the Routt National Forest were identified as key urban interface areas with public land and have a buildup of fuels from years of putting out forest fires. Forest land for fuel reduction also has been identified near Gould and Kremmling.

"We have to take a long look at this and make sure it's not a counter-productive thing," said Wayne Kakela over the phone Thursday.

Kakela is a member of the Strawberry Park Group and talked to the Forest Service at one of the public meetings. He represents homeowners in Strawberry Park. Fuel reduction on national forest land will be near private property in that area.

He said people are concerned about the effect burning would have on water quality, air quality and the appearance of the area. Property owners also are concerned about controlled burns becoming out of control.

Controlled burns would take place in certain times in the fall and spring, Cadenhead said, ensuring the ground won't be dangerously dry.

Officials also try to burn on days when the wind would take the smoke up and disperse it into the atmosphere instead of down to the ground. That technique doesn't always work, Cadenhead said, but it does most of time.

"We heard a lot of concerns on how it will look afterward," he added.

People can expect to see burned vegetation for a few months, Cadenhead said. But only the fuels will be burned, including sagebrush, oak brush, sarvice berry, grasses and dead needles.

"I think this is a good idea," property owner Nancy Mayer said. "But I want to make sure they are covering everything."

Cadenhead said there is still much to be figured out with the fuel reduction, which probably wouldn't start until the fall of 2002.

For one, officials need to look over the land in question to make sure the fuel reduction is really needed.

If there is a need, then a method of reducing the fuels will be chosen. That could be clearing the fuels or burning them.

Lou DeQuine agreed the fuel reduction is needed. However, the biggest fire in Routt County last summer, which burned about 100 acres of land in the Lynx Pass area, including a portion of DeQuine's land, wouldn't have been prevented from fuel reductions on forest land.

It was started on private land, which would not be included in the plan.

"I think this is a good program and I guess every little bit helps, but it certainly isn't a cure-all," he said. "It needs to be done in conjunction with private land."

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