Lower North Fork Fire Started as Prescribed Burn

From ABC News, Denver:

How The Fire Started

On Tuesday, the Colorado State Forest Service admitted to 7NEWS that the Lower North Fork Fire started as a result of a prescribed burn it was conducting late last week. …

Last Wednesday, the Colorado Forest Service initiated a prescribed burn on Denver Water Board property. The purpose was to reduce woody fuel from past forest restoration activity.

Prescribed fires sometimes have unintended consequences, and sometimes the consequences are tragic. We all know this, but it proves useful to our extended conversation here at NCFP if we acknowledge it. Our forest management efforts play out in contexts that are quite wild, and we should be ever-mindful of that fact.

4 thoughts on “Lower North Fork Fire Started as Prescribed Burn”

  1. This is exactly why the US Forest Service has downplayed the use of prescribed fires as being effective and desirable. The liability issue is one they cannot avoid, so they use their illegal Let-Burn program, instead. I have no doubt that the Forest Service will have to find other ways to manage fuels, especially when the public learns that those mismanaged escaped wildfires offer them no legal recourse, when their homes and properties burn. The Forest Service would LOVE to be able to get that program to fit under NEPA.

  2. Odd.When I Google “benefits of prescribed fire us forest service” I get 1,2220,000 hits. Exactly when did the Forest Service start downplaying prescribed fires as effective and desirable?

  3. In theory prescribed fire can be effective and beneficial, but there is a risk if the burn is attempted in borderline circumstances. And the risk is not just to the forest or other resources, but also is a risk to the career of the district ranger or other responsible person who gave the “go-ahead” for ignition. Fire is a tool that is very sensitive in how it is used or which carries a high cost risk along with benefits; therefore it is a tool that has limits in reality. Such as for a handgun carried by a nervous, untrained person playing cops and robbers in the middle of the night.
    Larry should reread the posting to see that the story lists a state agency as the culprit, not the USFS. Not that it makes a difference in the point I am making. And interesting to read that the burn was intended to reduce logging (thinning) slash, in a muni watershed. Seems to prove my long-standing opinion that the best thing to do in most (not all, but most) muni watersheds in mountainous terrain is to LEAVE IT ALONE and live with the long-term risk of some future wildifre.

  4. Notice that I made sure to include the US in front of Forest Service, Ed. I do agree with your first paragraph but want to add that there isn’t enough burn days “within prescription” to accomplish much of anything in the dry western forests. And, the liability costs are something the Forest Service wants to keep, oh, so quiet. Imagine trying to burn in Forests like the Angles and the San Bernardino, when the Santa Ana’s suddenly pop up. I think we can say liabilities would cross the BILLION dollar mark.

    The costs to the municipal water company in the Heyman Fire were well over 10 million dollars, and the impacts to water users were quite significant. What about all the people that the Colorado River watershed serves? 30 million people?!? The Forest Service doesn’t want to tell the public the ugly truth about prescribed fires and their limitations. Don’t get me wrong about my thoughts on their potential usefulness, though. I still think they could be essential to maintaining fire safety and forest health but, they should be used AFTER mechanical or hand thinnings. The fire folks in the Forest Service are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Do you really think they will tell the truth about the realities of prescribed burns? They use the rhetoric of “fire is natural and beneficial” to pad their paychecks, including letting fires burn for WEEKS, with dubious results. The arrogance of thinking that they can keep a fire contained for that long, in the middle of summer, with no solid firelines is flat-out dangerous, and has bit them in the butt many times. Rarely do wildfires stay within lines on a map.

    Prescribed fires work great in the South but, that doesn’t translate to the dry west, which continues to get drier all the time. And more overgrown. And more dead. Sure, Jim, the benefits of prescribes are very good, indeed. However, their limitations prevent them from making a dent in decades of fire suppressed landscapes. Do we need to lift the requirements keeping such prescribed fires within prescription? Do you think that would be a good idea? I sure don’t think the government lawyers would think so. “Exactly when did the Forest Service start downplaying prescribed fires as effective and desirable?” When they continue to fall farther and farther behind in getting them accomplished on the ground. THAT is when.


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