The U.S. Forest Service’s Arapaho National Forest is preparing to apply prescribed fire in the area known as “Blue Ridge”, south of Hot Sulphur Springs and southwest of Granby.
Implementing prescribed fire is the next step in the Blue Ridge Salvage and Fuels Reduction Project, an ongoing effort to reduce the risk of wildfire to communities and improve forest health conditions in Grand County. Burning could take place in the fall and spring, and fire managers hope to start in October, with a few small units (about 500 acres total) in the northernmost portion of the project area, between Big Meadows and Cottonwood Pass.
The area is part of the Wildland-Urban Interface formed by the towns of Granby, Hot Sulphur Springs and the Fraser Valley. Improving conditions in this area is a key component of the Hot Sulphur, Fraser and Grand County Community Wildfire Protection Plans.
More than 870 acres of timber has been sold as part of the Blue Ridge project, mostly to local contractors, and cutting continues in the southern portion of the project area. Fifty acres of roadside hazard treatment has also been completed in the project area, improving egress and emergency response access routes, and strengthening potential fire lines. And in 2017, crews completed burning 100 acres of piled fuels in the area.
“The work we’ve done in there so far has made a big difference, but these landscapes need fire to thrive and stay healthy,” said Sulphur District Ranger Jon Morrissey. “Prescribed fire gives us a cost-effective tool for getting rid of the hazardous fuels building up as the old beetle-killed trees start falling down. Wildfires that burn into areas that have been treated with prescribed fire cause less damage, are easier to control and are safer for firefighters.”
Other benefits – prescribed fire will help accelerate regeneration in the lodgepole forests and will rejuvenate the aspen and shrublands, making the area more attractive to wildlife.
The Blue Ridge prescribed fire project could continue over the next 5-10 years, with a ultimate goal of completing up to 11,000 acres of prescribed burning between Cottonwood Pass and Keyser Creek Road, including national forest lands along Big Meadows Road (NFR 253), Beaver Creek Road (NFR 133), and Little Muddy (NFR 134.1).
Also known as controlled burning, prescribed fire is implemented under very specific environmental conditions (e.g. wind speed, relative humidity). Prescribed fires are planned and implemented by trained fire managers with a strong understanding of fire behavior and years of on-the-ground experience. Fire managers take advantage of existing fire breaks like roads, trails, rocky areas or create control measures by thinning the forest to create a fire break. This helps them safely keep the prescribed fire within its designated control perimeter. Snow, even, can be used as a control measure.
Fire managers staff the fire until it is deemed secure and patrol the prescribed fire until it is declared out. Numerous partners, including local fire departments, will participate in the implementation of this prescribed burn.
Depending on conditions, smoke from these activities could be visible from many areas in the county, including Parshall, Granby and parts of the Fraser Valley. Smoke will be in the air, but fire managers work closely with experts to minimize the impacts to the extent possible. Air quality is carefully monitored before and during a prescribed fire and all prescribed burns comply with local air quality regulations to minimize impacts to communities.
Unlike a natural start wildfire, fire managers can control when a prescribed starts and ends, giving smoke sensitive residents the chance to plan around those impacts. To learn more about the potential health impacts of smoke visit www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/wood-smoke-and-health.
To receive updates on this project, please send your email information to BlueRidgeRxGrand@gmail.com. The latest information on the Blue Ridge Prescribed Burn, including maps and project background, will be available on our InciWeb page: www.fs.usda.gov/goto/arp/blueridge, and more updates will be shared in the week and days before burning is likely to begin.