U.S. Forest Service Zone Fire Management Officer Sam Duerksen uses a drip torch to start several piles of slash material on fire Thursday morning in the Lynx Pass area. The controlled burn was part of a joint effort with a private landowner to clean up and create access to a firebreak in an area known for wildfires. Duerksen said the cleanup will make fighting fires in the future easier and should make access in and out of the area safer in the case of a wildfire.
Property owners, firefighters take steps to battle blazes before they start
Steamboat Springs Don Read, a caretaker for a private home located on Lynx Pass near Stagecoach, has spent the past two years fighting a fire that has no flames and creates no heat.
Property owners and U.S. Forest Service work ahead to avoid fires.
The former Hotshot firefighter is hoping this fire will never be sparked, will never be whipped by the wind, and will never destroy homes. If someday this fire becomes a reality, however, Read is confident the steps he took to prevent it will make it easier to fight the fire and protect the home and property for which he is responsible.
“It’s only 7 acres,” Read said. “But it’s a great example of what can happen when private landowners and the Forest Service work together.”
Clearing the land and creating a safe access for residents and firefighters has been the goal of Read and the homeowners the past two years.
It became clear that something needed to be done in summer 2012 when high winds knocked down a power line on the land owned by the U.S. Forest Service. The power line ignited a fire, which ran up the hill away from the road, fueled by downed trees and beetle kill.
Read said he was thankful firefighters got a handle on the fire before it spread onto the private land, but the near miss sent a message to the homeowners — and other homeowners in the area — to be aggressive about reducing fuels that could results in a small fire becoming a destructive fire.
Read said the homeowners approached the Forest Service, and together, they began to clear a path to the solution.
Read, who owns Foxfire Fuelwood Inc., contracted through a timber sale to clear the dead trees on either side of the U.S. Forest Service Road. He plans to take many of the logs to a private mill, and what remains, he will sell as firewood.
But he stresses that his main goal was to reduce the chance that a fire could sweep through the area, destroying homes and cutting off residents. His work created a nice firebreak and a wide area in case firefighters needed to access the private land to fight fires or in case residents needed to use the road to get out of the area.
“This is awesome,” Read said when Forest Service employees showed up Thursday to burn 11 small piles of slash that was left behind by the project. “This is the final chapter of this project.”
Read estimates he cut down more than 500 dead trees, mostly in the burn area. He was especially proud of the trees he cut down on the other side of the road, leaving behind young, healthy pine trees and aspen groves.
He said there still is some minor cleanup work to be done, but the bulk of his efforts are behind him.
Zone Fire Management Officer Sam Duerksen said this project is a small part of a much larger project to mitigate fire dangers in the Lynx Pass area. He said the Forest Service typically would wait until the fall to burn slash piles but that conditions in the area allowed this small burn to take place in the spring.
“Typically, we like the cold and snow in the fall to help cool the larger slash piles,” Duerksen said. “But these are pretty small, and there is still a lot of snow in the area.”
Duerksen said this project was like killing two birds with one stone. He said it would help with fire prevention and also remove dead trees that were in danger of falling.
He said projects would continue in the area, but that most of the work will take place in the fall. The larger part of that project could take several years to complete.
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com