Reverse 9-1-1 calls throughout Chaffee County on Friday morning, Sept. 28, made by the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Department through its Everbridge notification system, alerted residents not to report the obvious smoke and haze drifting throughout parts of Chaffee County. The smoke is drifting south from Lake County, where a prescribed burn is underway by the U.S. Forest Service.
The controlled burn is being conducted on Flume Creek, on the south east shore of Twin Lake. According to Salida District Ranger Jim Pitts, the Forest Service began the 120 acre operation on Sept. 27 and is expecting to complete it on or around Tuesday Oct. 2, when moisture is forecast for the area. Crews will be on site monitoring the burn until the weather changes, or the fuels are consumed.
Pitts said that conducting the coordinated burn operation takes a large number of trained staff. “We had 60 people there on Thursday and the same number are there today,” said Pitts speaking by phone on Sept. 28. “Yes, there are risks involved when we use fire as a tool to mitigate the possibility of future fires. But we have skilled individuals out there – this is their profession. It takes a lot of people to do a burn like this. We’re there to do the job and keep things safe.”
Pitts explained the fuels in the prescribed burn area are lodge pole pine and aspen, adding there are a lot of dead trees and slash that have been on the ground from tree thinning in the area some five or six years ago. The terrain of the burn is along the north and northwest aspect of a ridge that runs on the southeast side of Twin Lakes.
“There are two things going on with this burn. There’s Twin Lake itself and that water source is very valuable for down stream users and the individuals that hold the water rights. That water shed is very important to water quality and fire has impacts on the soils too,” said Pitts. “ The timber treatments we’re doing are replacing the natural role of fire in the landscape, not in high summer, but as controlled burns in October and November, before winter moisture.”
Pitts explained that the area of the burn is important because of the control features that run through it. “There’s an admin road that runs along the area that is part of the Colorado Trail. Those are defensive structures if there were to be a wildfire and by doing this burn we are making that control feature wider and more protective. The highway is further to the east and this could slow or stop a wildfire moving that dirction, as well as manage the trees and the densities of the fuels around Twin Lake.”
Pitts said he understands when people complain about the smoke, but hope the public understands the need. “ We’re impacted by the smoke as well – we understand that by-product of our action and that on a crisp, blue-sky day the white smoke stands out. But we only burn on good days when we get good smoke dispersion and we control burn times to make sure we manage the smoke.”