By Omar Sarabia
Defiende Nuestra Tierra
The long winter has ended and, little by little, spring is arriving with sunny and warm days. You can see plants blooming, hear birds singing and grasses are getting greener every day. It’s a beautiful time to explore the incredible public lands that are all around us!
Spring also marks the beginning of wildfire season — a crucial time for everyone in our community to be alert and informed, so as not to accidentally cause a fire, know what to do in case a fire happens and be aware of planned fires.
The Defiende Nuestra Tierra program at Wilderness Workshop wants to ensure that all in our community have access to important safety information about fires, and this is a great opportunity to learn a bit more about wildfires and how they are part of our natural world. It’s helpful to think about the three different types of wildfires that can occur during our fire season.
Prescribed Fires: Planned or prescribed burns, also known as controlled fires, refer to the planned and controlled use of fire by a team of experts under specific conditions (temperature, wind, humidity, etc). They are a safe, calculated method to improve habitat and reduce the amount of fuel in the forest while ensuring that property and people remain out of harm’s way.
Natural Fires: Most often caused by lightning strikes, these fires are part of our landscape and ecology. They are often suppressed or put out by wildland firefighters to protect communities, but when conditions are safe they are sometimes allowed to burn. When conditions are especially hot and dry, it can be very difficult to extinguish these fires.
Human-caused, unplanned fires: These are fires accidentally started by people and often pose a risk to communities. Some causes of these fires are illegal campfires, electrical infrastructure or a careless cigarette.
Fire is a natural ecological process (just like rain or animal migration). If suppressed or removed from the landscape, harm is caused to plants, animals and forest ecology. Both natural and prescribed fires provide important ecological benefits, such as improving or creating wildlife habitat including nesting sites for birds, increased food for animals like elk and deer, and even great mushroom foraging for us humans! Prescribed fires can help maintain healthy forest ecosystems, reduce the risk and severity of future wildfires and keep our communities and fire departments safer.
This year, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are planning several prescribed fires in our region, including:
Cattle Creek Prescribed Burn: nine miles northeast of El Jebel and nine miles southwest of Gypsum, up to 1,500 acres.
Cottonwood Creek Prescribed Burn: four miles north of Eagle, up to 460 acres.
Muddy Pass Prescribed Burn: five miles north of Edwards, up to 2,900 acres.
Seven Castles Prescribed Burn: six miles east of Basalt, up to 1,100 acres.
Cherry Creek Prescribed Burn: 10 miles north of Silt, up to 1,200 acres.
West Divide Prescribed Burn: 17 miles south of Silt, up to 1,000 acres.
Braderich Creek Prescribed Burn: one mile west of Redstone, up to 1,500 acres.
Collins Creek Prescribed Burn: Seven miles north of Aspen, up to 1,200 acres.
Hunter Creek Prescribed Burn: Two miles northeast of Aspen, up to 1,200 acres.
What to expect
All of these prescribed fires are planned and will only occur if fire officials determine conditions are ideal for a safe and effective prescribed burn; these conditions generally occur in April or early May. If conditions are not favorable, the fires will not occur. The fires usually take place over one to three days. Once lit, crews will remain on-site to monitor and contain the spread of the fire.
On burn days, do not call 911 if you see flames or smoke in these areas. There can be a lot of smoke visible at all times and people may even see flames. You can expect to see fire trucks, crews and possibly a helicopter hovering over the burn. Signs and personnel will be posted for the safety of the public. During the night, little or no fire will be observed.
Sign up for alerts
For information about planned prescribed fire, contact:
White River National Forest Facebook page at Facebook@WhiteRiverNF; or on Twitter: @WhiteRiverNews.
Call the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District of the US Forest Service: (970) 963-2266
Depending on where you live or work, we encourage you to sign up for text message, phone call or email alerts:
Pitkin County Alert System: www.PitkinAlert.org
Garfield County: www.GarCo911.org
Eagle County: www.ECemergency.org
The “Defiende Nuestra Tierra” Facebook page will also be sharing up-to-date information on prescribed fires this spring.
Omar Sarabia is the Director of the Defiende Nuestra Tierra program at Wilderness Workshop. This column was originally printed in el Sol del Valle, The Sopris Sun’s Spanish section, the week of April 14, and was translated for English readership.
This map shows sites intended for controlled burns. Courtesy graphic