Area fires allowed to burn unrestrained

Brown's Park fires to be part of fuel management plan

At first, the plan may sound like no plan at all: If there is a fire, let it burn, and that's exactly what firefighters are doing for two fires in Northwest Colorado.

The way the "let it burn" policy is handled is actually more much intricate than it sounds. A fire is managed like other resources it is put to the best use possible to improve the health and viability of a natural system. Officials will let a fire burn as long as it stays within parameters set by the agency responsible for the area.

Firefighters are stationed constantly around the fire, making sure it does not pass into areas the plan doesn't allow.

Two fires, which are south of Browns Park and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands, where Dinosaur National Monument and BLM land mix, fall into that category.

The fires in the Davis Draw and Ecklund areas, which have consumed approximately 3,300 acres in Northwest Colorado, are being managed under the Fire Use Management plan, which was designed by the BLM, the National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service. The plan was completed in March of 2000, and this is the first full-fire season it is being used to guide firefighters in how they deal with wild fires on public lands.

"With a Fire Use fire, the wild fire is managed for resource benefit on open areas, while keeping it from certain areas where the fire would do major damage to private property or rare animal habitat," said Dr. Ronald Hodgson with the Bureau of Land Management. "In a Maximum Management Area (MMA), a fire is allowed to burn naturally and benefit the ecosystems. In these days, that is complicated by private property inholdings within public lands and habitat concerns, which changes the shape of an MMA and causes us to use suppression methods to control where the fire burns.

"We'll allow the fire to burn in certain areas until the rain or wind puts it out," he said.

One of the areas protected with suppression efforts is within Browns Park Wildlife Refuge, where a blackline a burned out area that stops a fire by starving it of fuel was used to protect an area of very old cottonwood trees that are the habitat of ospreys and herons. The cottonwoods would not be easy to regrow, and are irreplaceable habitat.

Suppression methods will also used to protect private property and structures that become threatened.

"These fires are in a very remote area and are not effecting travel to the Monument or along the river," Hodgson said.

With the Fire Plan being organized by Moffat County, some of the private lands that would be affected by MMA fire procedures could also be designated a part of the MMA if the landowner agrees. Since that plan is not yet complete, a meeting is being held Thursday in Vernal, Utah, to see if private property owners affected will allow their property to continue to burn, or if suppression efforts are requested.

In keeping with the terms of the Fire Use Management philosophy, the Black Mountain fire that burned in late May and early June and consumed 39 acres was allowed to run its course.

"There are areas that are to be managed by this plan all over Cold Springs Mountain, the south side of Douglas Mountain, all wildlife study areas, the Vail of Tears, Cross Mountain, Bow Draw and Skull Creek, for example," said Mike Reiser, Fire Management Officer for the Craig/Routt Fire Management Center. "With fires like this, we watch for smoke management, and do as much as we can so we don't allow managed fires to impact visitors."

Mild weather helped slow the two wildfires Tuesday, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Fire officials said cooler temperatures and lighter winds slowed the blazes to a crawl. The fires were started last week by lightning.

A 90-person fire management team is monitoring the fires.

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