Steamboat Springs The first prescribed burn in a project that will affect 4,000 acres of North Routt County forest starts today.
Weather conditions permitting, these initial fires of the Big Creek Ridge Prescribed Fire project could burn as many as 200 acres, or half of the area the U.S. Forest Service plans to burn this fall, said Rob Sexton, U.S. Forest Service spokesman. Subsequent burns are planned for the next three years.
Forecasts suggested that today and Wednesday would be an ideal time for the first burns, he said.
"There's more moisture in the vegetation now than there was just a few weeks ago when it was tinder dry," Sexton said. "The weather forecast is for a cool day with very low winds, reasonable humidity. All the factors are supposed to be good for a low intensity fire."
If the weather changes, the prescribed burns will be called off, he said.
The Big Creek Ridge Prescribed Fire project will burn areas of scrub oak north of Mad Creek, east of Routt County Road 129 and south of Clark. Of the impacted area, only about 2,500 acres will be burned black.
The purpose of the fires is to rejuvenate the aging brush, which covers much of the area and can light up serious fires, Sexton said. The fires also should let new vegetation grow, improving wildlife habitat and elk winter grazing.
During these first burns, which will be in the area of Long Draw and the Greenville Mine Road and will begin at about 11 a.m., some smoke could be visible from County Road 129, Sexton said. However, it will be much less than what a wildfire emits.
Two brush trucks and 26 U.S. Forest Service workers will be on hand, and the North Routt Fire Protection District will be on call. These prescribed burns scheduled will not affect road travel or any trails.
If it rains or snows come, or even if skies get cloudy, the fire could stop on its own before the fuel that needs to burn catches on fire, Sexton said.
Once snow starts piling up, prescribed burns will be put off until next spring.