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Morning photo: Best of August

Mountain brilliance …

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An August rainbow arcs to the east of the setting sun, framing part of Dillon Reservoir in Summit County, Colorado.

FRISCO — It was a month of rainbows and intense sunrise scenes, not to mention plentiful monsoon rains that dampened the wildfire danger and helped spur a bumper crop of mushrooms in the Colorado high country. I always have a hard time picking the best images from any given month, so instead, I’ve tried to pick photos that best reflect the time of year and the overall flavor of the month. This year, the combination of slightly earlier sunsets with copious afternoon showers helped set the stage for numerous and brilliant rainbows. And earlier in the month, smoke from distant wildfires contributed to amazing sky glow during sunrise. Please visit our online gallery at FineArt America for a full selection of Summit County landscapes, available as fine art prints or greeting cards. Continue reading

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Op-ed: Teamwork needed to protect forests, watersheds

Active forest management needed to protect water supplies

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A beetle-kill forest clear cut near Dillon Reservoir, Summit County, Colorado.

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Colorado State Forester Mike Lester.

By Mike Lester

A Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of Agriculture and Department of Interior to reduce the risk and impacts of catastrophic Western wildfires was signed last week in Fort Collins. The Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership was good news for anyone who cares about the health of our forests, pays a water bill or worries about wildfires.

The Colorado State Forest Service is proud to be part of a similar local partnership that is being viewed as the first of six WWEP pilot programs in the West to improve forest and watershed health, and help mitigate wildfire risk. The Colorado-Big Thompson Headwaters Partnership focuses on the headwaters of the Colorado and Big Thompson rivers in Northern Colorado. Partners include the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the USDA Forest Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation. Continue reading

10,000 acre Nevada wildfire started as a prescribed burn

North Schell fire 15 percent contained

The North Schell Fire perimter map, courtesy U.S. Forest Service.

The North Schell Fire in Nevada. Photo courtesy BLM.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — One of the biggest new wildfires burning in the West started as a prescribed burn that escaped control during one of the driest seasons on record in the Great Basin.

The North Schell Fire in Nevada has burned across more than 10,000 acres and is estimated at 15 percent containment. It’s burning in the North Schell Range, not far from Ely, in eastern Nevada.

Fuels include white fir, mountain mahogany, piñon-pine, juniper, and sagebrush. The fire is making occasional runs, along with spotting and torching in extremely difficult terrain. More than 200 firefighters are on scene with more resources arriving.

Fire officials said there is extreme potential for the fire to grow, with temperatures in the high 70s and 80s and relative humidity in the single digits.

Statewide fire ban enacted in Colorado

Open fires, private fireworks now prohibited

Firefighters at the High Park Fire in Larimer County work to protect structures. PHOTO COURTESY INCIWEB.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY —Although the two biggest wildfires currently burning in Colorado were both started by lightning, state officials want to reduce the chance of human-caused blazes by implementing a statewide ban on open fires and the private use of fireworks.

A bone-dry late winter and spring, along with well-above average temperatures several months in a row, have created dangerous fire conditions throughout much of the state. Any small fires could quickly grow out of control.

By most measures, at least three-quarters of all wildfires are started by human activities, including carelessness, escaped agricultural fires, forestry operations, sparks from off-road vehicles and even discarded cigarettes. Those statistics hold true in most other countries, as well.

In Summit County, the two most recent significant wildfires were caused by downed powerlines, including the Montezuma Fire in March, and the June 2011 fire at the mouth of Keystone Gulch. Continue reading

Colorado to revamp wildfire response

The Lower North Fork Fire burning March 26 in Jefferson County. PHOTO COURTESY JEFFERSON COUNTY SHERIFF.

Gov. Hickenlooper proposes reshuffling agencies to unify command structure

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY —Scrambling to beef up the state’s response capability at the start of what could be a long, hot fire season, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said Monday he’ll ask the State Legislature to shake up the agencies charged with responding to public safety emergencies.

Based on the recommendations of a review panel, Hickenlooper said he’ll propose legislation that would put the Division of Emergency Management and wildfire resources at the Colorado State Forest Service under the authority of the Colorado Department of Public Safety. Continue reading

Colorado: Sen. Udall says Forest Service may not have enough air tankers to fight large or multiple wildfires

A P3 air tanker drops flame retardant on the Las Conchas fire in New Mexico, July 2011. PHOTO COURTESY USFS/KARI GREER.

Forest Service acknowledges need to upgrade air tanker fleet

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The potential for a long and dangerous fire season this week prompted Sen. Mark Udall (D—Colo.) to express concerns about the U.S. Forest Service’s capability to fight fires from the air.

In a letter to Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, Udall said he’s not sure the agency’s air tanker fleet is is capable of keeping Coloradans safe in a timely and effective manner. He stressed the importance of having a reliable fleet to adequately address wildfire threats across the state and country.

“Though air tankers are only one part of the wildfire-response effort, they play a critical role in the initial attack. With an aging fleet that has dwindled from 44 air tankers in 2002 to 11 this year, and will continue to decline in the years to come, I am unconvinced the USFS’s current air tanker fleet is prepared to adequately address an immense wildfire or even what is sure to be a long fire season,” Udall wrote.  “Again, I appreciate the attention USFS has already paid to this critical issue, but it is essential that the USFS be prepared today for a fire season that is already looming large in Colorado.” Continue reading

Air tankers arrive to battle Colorado wildfire

Latest update: Air Force C-130s arrive to battle June 2012 wildfires in Colorado

June 24 Update on new firefighting resources

June 24 Update on Waldo Canyon Fire

Lower North Fork Fire uncontained at 4,500 acres

The Lower North Fork Fire now has a 4.500-acre footprint in Colorado’s Jefferson County.

Lower North Fork Fire. PHOTO COURTESY JEFFCO SHERIFF.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The Lower North Fork Fire has grown to 4,500 acres and claimed a second life, according to the Jefferson County Sheriff, which is posting its latest updates on an emergency blog and via Twitter.

At about 1:25 p.m. a pre-evacuation order was issued to about 6,500 homes based on a spot fire about 1 mile northwest of Waterton Canyon.

The sheriff’s office confirmed the second fatality at 11:15 a.m. and also said that 16 structures have burned. As of 9:20 a.m. containment was still reported as zero, but officials said they’ve fire fighting strategy has changed from point protection to active fire suppression.

More real-time fire information is streaming via Twitter at the #LowerNorthForkFire hashtag, though the JeffCo sheriff is urging people to be cautious when retweeting posts from unofficial sources.

The fire is burning in grass, shrubs and downed pine needles, along with standing ponderosa pine forest. Heavy tree canopies combined with high temperatures and a lack of humidity are all contributing to the volatile conditions.

Hot Shot fire crews are on the way from Utah, Arizona and South Dakota and air support is also being mustered, with two National Guard helicopters en route from Buckley Air Force Base to do water drops.

As of 12 p.m., a Single Engine Air Tanker (SEAT) and a heavy P2V airplane started dropping fire retardant over the Lower North Fork Fire Zone.

A specialized incident management team from the Great Basin Area of Montana is expected to arrive this evening to assist in the management of the incident, according to the JeffCo Sheriff.

Researchers say frequency and size of fires in Mediterranean region linked to changing population patterns and land uses

A brushfire burning near Athens in 2009. PHOTO VIA LFL

Forest fuels change as people move from the countryside to cities

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — An increase forest fires in the Mediterranean region has been linked with shifting demographics and changes in land use, according to scientists with the  Universidad Carlos III de Madrid.

The study, recently published in the journal Climatic Change, constructed a complete database of historical fires in the province of Valencia in order to relate them to the evolution of the climate and societal and territorial transformations in the region. The research that was carried out provides the most complete series of data on the evolution of fires in the Mediterranean basin to date.

The data showed that fires grew more frequent and larger during the 1970s. The change is linked to a population exodus from rural areas and changes in land use during that era. Continue reading

Texas timber industry takes a $97 million hit from wildfires

An engine at the Nolan County Complex sprays water on mesquite pile earlier this summer. PHOTO COURTESY STEVE PAES. Click on the image to see more photos from the Texas wildfires at the Inciweb Gallery.

175 million cubic feet of timber up in smoke

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Along with causing several deaths and burning thousands of homes, the latest round of wildfires in east Texas has destroyed almost $100 million worth of timber, resulting in economic costs far beyond the immediate cost of fighting fires and the value of the destroyed homes, the Texas Forest Service reported this week.

“Along with the heavy toll on people and property, these fires have significantly damaged the forestland — and the forest sector as a whole — in East Texas,” said Chris Edgar, a forest resource analyst with Texas Forest Service. “It’s a tremendous loss for the East Texas timber industry.”

In 2007, forest industries funneled $427 million into the economy in Cass and Marion counties while employing 1,330 people with a payroll of $72 million. More information on the Texas wildfires is online at Inciweb. Continue reading

Bastrop Fire in Texas now 30 percent contained

Texas fires claimed more than 1,000 homes in past three days

Bastrop Fire map, Texas wildfires

The Bastrop fire complex near Austin, Texas is now 30 percent contained.

SUMMIT COUNTY — The 33,000-acre Bastrop Fire, one of the most destructive of the recent Texas wildfires, is now 30 percent contained, according to the Texas Forest Service, but the fire is still threatening a powerplant, as well as historic cabins in Bastrop State Park.

The western flank of the fire is still a threat to eastern edge of Bastrop, where 5,000 residents have been evacuated. The Bastrop Fire burned 785 homes during Labor Day weekend, according to the Sept. 7 update from the Texas Forest Service. The agency also said that 238 homes were burned by other fires in the past three days. Continue reading

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