USFS rehabilitating 2002 fire damage

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As the 200-acre Sawtooth Fire in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness continues to burn, the U.S. Forest Service is working to rehabilitate the land destroyed by last year's fires.

Tractor-trailers loaded with straw will be passing through downtown Steamboat this weekend on their way to last year's Mount Zirkel wilderness fire. Large bales of straw will help rehabilitate more than 2,030 acres of burned forest in the Lost Dog and English Creek area of the Routt National Forest.

A helicopter will scatter the straw on the steepest parts of the burned area to help prevent erosion.

The forest service said 130 tractor-trailer loads of weed-free straw will be used for aerial mulching. One ton of straw will be scattered on each acre of burned area.

Forest Service Soil Scientist Tommy John said aerial mulching is part of the Burned Area Emergency Rehabilitation work. The straw will lessen the impact rain has on the soil, preventing erosion until a new plant community grows, John said.

Aerial mulching is a short-term measure, and eventually the natural process will take over to rehabilitate the area, he said.

The forest service had planned to do aerial mulching last October but were postponed by snow.

During the aerial mulching, the burned area will be closed. The lower portion of Forest Road 433 will also be closed.

The forest service is hoping to begin Tuesday and expects the work to take about nine days.

The Mount Zirkel Complex fire increased to 31,000 acres last summer.

On July 29, the Mount Zirkel Wilderness saw its first significant fire of the year.

The lightning-caused Sawtooth fire is about three miles inside the wilderness boundary near Diamond Park and is burning in dead spruce trees killed by beetles and small blowdown patches. The Craig InterAgency Dispatch said observed fire behavior has been creeping. It has remained at 200 acres for more than a week.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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