Steamboat Sanctuary resident accepts concerns, costs of wildfire risks
June 29, 2010
Steamboat Springs — When firefighters try to explain the term "wildland/urban interface," they could just point to Judith Harrington's house.
Her beautiful home, like several on Aspen Wood Drive in the Sanctuary subdivision along Steamboat Boulevard, sits yards away from a ravaged forest that city officials targeted for logging to mitigate wildfire risks. Although Ron Lindroth, fire chief of Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue, said last week that the subdivision "is not a significant wildfire concern" in the immediate future, he also cautioned that long-term risks could accumulate as dead pines pile up from the bark-beetle infestation.
And dead trees can create unsafe conditions for firefighters at any time, Lindroth said.
If the worst-case scenario were to occur, city firefighters could find themselves caught between a blazing fire and conditions too hazardous to fight it — or, potentially, to protect multimillion-dollar homes at the bottom of a forested hillside strewn with dead pines.
Harrington and her neighbors live in some of Steamboat's most expensive homes. Most of the homes in the area are set back from the street and shaded, or hidden from view, by thick groves of aspen and pine set on steep slopes.
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Harrington said Monday that she never would trade her home for a location with less risk.
"I love it," she said. "I love the trees, I love the wildlife. … The Sanctuary's beautiful."
Sanctuary homeowners voted this month to not participate in the city's federally funded logging operation, opting instead to continue using personal and subdivision funds to protect their homes from a blaze. Harrington wrote a letter about the issue that was published in Sunday's Steamboat Pilot & Today. In it, she said she's spent more than $10,000 to remove hazardous trees from her forested, sloped backyard.
She talked about that decision Monday. Harrington said she's owned her home for about three years.
"I have cut down about 90 trees," she said, listing three separate tree removal companies she's worked with.
Her backyard is a testament to that effort. Numerous stumps can be seen amid a low-lying carpet of new, green growth from the wet spring. Lindroth said last week that at most Sanctuary homes, "there is adequate defensible space between (subdivision) homes and the forest."
But Harrington's greatest concern isn't even wildfires — she's more worried about the potential for avalanches down clear-cut swaths left by a large-scale logging operation.
When considering the city's logging proposal, the Sanctuary homeowners' association consulted with Steamboat resident Art Judson, an avalanche expert with 50 years of experience in the field.
"There's a 700-foot-long slope there with an avalanche gradient on it," Judson said, referring to the north slope of the hillside stretching down from the Burgess Creek and Rendezvous Trails area to the Aspen Wood Drive area.
"The probability of an avalanche coming down that slope right now is about nil, with the vegetation on it," he continued. "If the vegetation was removed, the likelihood of an avalanche increases considerably. … That would be serious."
Harrington said she has no bones to pick with the city for its logging proposal or with the decision by Sanctuary leadership to not participate in the project. That feeling is shared by neighbors she frequently talks with about the issue, she said.
"I'm not criticizing the city. … Nobody was upset by this," Harrington said. "The city was doing its job."
She noted that she and some of her neighbors recently have had healthy lodgepole pines sprayed to help prevent bark-beetle infestation.
"People have to take care of their own backyards," Harrington said. "You can't expect the government to come in and take care of everything."
— To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4233 or e-mail email@example.com