Too dry to burn

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— Wildfire danger in Colorado postponed plans for controlled burns around Steamboat Springs.

The Dry Lake Fuel Reduction Plan calls for 206 acres of controlled burning on three sites in the Steamboat urban interface areas of the Routt National Forest. U.S. Forest Service officials wanted to start the burns this spring, but wildfires in the state left the Hahns Peak/Bears Ears District shorthanded.

Forest Service employees fighting the Snaking Fire, near Bailey, was the primary reason for the lack of local resources. That fire burned more than 2,500 acres of land between April 23 and April 28. It also caused a statewide shutdown of prescribed burns in national forests, eliminating any other time the Dry Lake burning could have happened.

"We missed the burn window. We were going to burn last week, but that's when they started the shut down," said Kent Foster, zone fire management officer for the Forest Service.

The burn window is a time when snow on south-facing slopes in the forest has melted, but everything surrounding that patch is still covered with snow. Firefighters burn the open patch using the surrounding snow as a natural fire barrier.

Foster said the fire window was short this year because of early melt. But officials did fit in some controlled burning not related to the Dry Lake plan. In early April, a 150-acre controlled burn was successfully completed just north of Radium. The Colorado Division of Wildlife also burned on Blacktail Mountain near Stagecoach.

There wasn't adequate staffing when it came time to do a Dry Lake burn, Foster said. Prescribed burns so close to urban land need at least one 20-person Hot Shots crew a specialized wildfire-fighting unit on standby. A Hot Shots outfit was recently added in Craig, but it isn't officially active until Monday.

Foster said some fuel reduction is still planned for this summer. The Dry Lake plan also calls for 135 acres to be cut and cleared. Plus, another 83 acres, near the lower parking lot on County Road 38 going up Buffalo Pass, will be cut and made available to the public for firewood.

The first site work will be undertaken on a patch of land just north of Elk Park Road in the Strawberry Park area. Foster said that's a good place to start because it is relatively out of the way, compared to other patches of land that will be cut and cleared. Officials will then be able to see what the clearing will look like.

The Craig Hot Shots also will clear fire lines around the controlled burn areas this summer.

Foster said burning could start this fall after an early snow. If not, officials will shoot for the fire window in the spring of 2003.

Plans shows burning on three pieces of land. A 110-acre piece of land outlining the north side of Soda Creek and 70 acres northwest of the drainage from Rocky Peak, just north of the Strawberry Park Hot Springs. The smallest burn area is about 30 acres, just north of Spring Creek.

The Dry Lake plan is part of the $1.8 billion National Fire Plan. Federal money was filtered through numerous federal agencies to reduce wildfire dangers near cities and developments.

In addition to the Dry Lake plan, the Forest Service is finalizing three other fuel-reduction projects for the Routt National Forest through the National Fire Plan, including one for Stagecoach that has some controlled burns. The other plans include the Gould plan, east of Walden, and the Red Dirt plan.

Each plan could begin next spring and all four plans will take multiple years to complete.

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