The Fuel Treatment Debate Continues..Four Mile Fire

Just returned from vacation and saw this article in the Washington Post.

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, a resident of Boulder County and a long time supporter of mitigation efforts, has called for a review into whether those efforts were effective, as well as whether firefighters had enough air support and other resources…

Forest managers have begun examining the charred forest to see how their mitigation efforts worked, including how the fire was moving and how it behaved when it hit cleared areas, said Owen.

“All we can do is reduce the risk,” Owen said. “It’s not fireproofing.”

Mitigation efforts in the area had included communities banding together to plan for catastrophic fires, even if it meant convincing neighbors to cut down some of their trees.

Flames got within a half mile of the Poorman neighborhood on the eastern end of the fire, where about 30 homeowners had cut down trees and collectively purchased a plot of land for a community park, which served as a staging area for firefighters.

“These huge conflagrations aren’t as likely as the relatively small ones,” said Vera Evenson, a community leader who has lived in the mountains since 1965. She said the last major fire in the area happened in 1989. “That’s how we know mitigation works.”

Over the past three years, the county and state has spent about $800,000 on fire mitigation in the area, with thousands more spent by local fire districts and homeowners. Federal figures for the area weren’t immediately available, though Udall spokeswoman Jennifer Talhelm hopes that the review will help answer that question.

I thought it was mildly odd that the article cited a scientific study to determine acres of fuels treated.

Nationwide, the federal government treated 29 million fire-prone acres between 2001 and 2008, according to a study led by the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Hopefully, we would have a more direct and less costly method of reporting acres accomplished to Congress than funding university research on accomplishments ;).

3 thoughts on “The Fuel Treatment Debate Continues..Four Mile Fire”

  1. I’m quite familiar with the area of the Four Mile Fire. My wife’s cousin and her husband live up Left Hand Canyon right where the road comes down from Gold Hill. Their hand-crafted straw bale home survived.

    We’ve visited the area since 1997 and have taken many walks and hikes through the area that was burned by this fire.

    A few observations about this specific area.

    1) I was always completely amazed at the density of homes in this area outside of Boulder. Homes are literally built into the sides of mountains, tops of mountains, in steep canyons, on stilts above canyons, etc. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, certainly not here in Montana. I assume this settlement pattern had something to do with early mining activity, which resulted in much more of the land base in those foothills being private, rather than some form of public ownership. But, to be certain, I think if most people took at look at where some of these homes were built (to say nothing of the size of some of them) we’d shake our heads in disbelieve.

    2) The forest is this area has been heavily developed for the past 150 years or so. Logged, mined, roaded, bladed, soils heavily compacted and moved around…you name it and it’s been done to this forest. I’d say that 99.8% of all large trees were logged long ago, for mining timbers and for heat and smelters.

    3) Weather. I grew up in Wisconsin and when I moved to Missoula I thought this place was so incredibly dry. Then I went to the area around Boulder for a few summers in 98 and 99. Now that is a dry place! I’d wake up in the middle of the night with my tongue completely dry and my nose all dried out too. It’s a windy place too. The Washington Post article mentions that the day this fire blew up it was hot, dry and 60 mph winds! I’m not sure any large-scale thinning effort across this landscape could do much to prevent a fire’s spread during these types of extreme conditions. Although it does seem as if the mitigation work done immediately adjacent to homes did have some positive effect.

  2. Matthew- thanks for the comparative observations – these are very helpful. Parts of Colorado are engineered landscapes; whether through mining or water development or just intensity of development. Some of these differences are difficult to convey and thanks for the insights.

  3. I predict within a year the people’s republic of Boulder will demand a return of the timber industry. They’ll wrap it up in the pretty package called biomass. Within a year they’ll demand the USFS expand thinning and salvage harvest. Within 5 years nothing will come of it since the USFS cannot “gaurentee” any long term supply.It doesn’t matter if the people of Boulder turn on them and litigate again, all that matters is they could. Instead us tax payers will have to pay $1500/acre to cut, pile and burn.

    Awhile back I was looking at an EA for 1600 acres of MPB salvage clearcutting around the town of Nederland, which is like 16 miles West of Boulder(the EA was 50 pages long). Now keep in mind that Nederland is so environmentalist it makes Boulder look like Utah. The only Steak you can order is gonna be grass fed free-range organic. The decision was signed a year ago-I have no idea what the status of the project is.

    The Boulder fire made it dawn in me that the front range is probably the biggest WUI in the Rocky Mountains. 300 miles of million dollar homes. A couple weeks ago I was looking at the MPB killed watersheds of Bozeman and Helena Montana. Denver has a fascinating plumbing system of 10 mile tunnels and “pump backs” that brings their drinking water from the west side of the Continental divide. In the heart of MPB country. No wonder they want to salvage clearcut 30,000 acres.


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