Boulder County, Longmont fire experts warn of slash pile fire danger

Local fire experts agree that Colorado's unpredictable weather can have massive effects when mixed with fire, which is why they stress the importance of making sure a fire is entirely out before forgetting about it. "Anybody who has put out a campfire realizes...

Boulder County, Longmont fire experts warn of slash pile fire danger

Local fire experts agree that Colorado's unpredictable weather can have massive effects when mixed with fire, which is why they stress the importance of making sure a fire is entirely out before forgetting about it.

"Anybody who has put out a campfire realizes how much water it takes to put out," Longmont Fire Assistant Chief John Weaver said.

The official cause of Friday's fire has not been released, though investigators believe the Rogers Fire — which destroyed 10 outbuildings and killed 28 animals on a single property west of Longmont — was sparked by remnants of a slash pile burned Jan. 5, a day Boulder County experienced a snowstorm.

But depending on size, density and other circumstances, fire experts said, it's not unheard of for an extinguished fire to stay hot for weeks and reignite in a weather event.

Officials said it's crucial to evaluate multiple factors — such as temperature, wind, forecasts and surroundings — before lighting anything on fire.

"Everything dries out at different rates, but what is carrying the fire right now? It's going to be the grasses and it's going to be the winds," Mountain View Fire Assistant Chief Keith Long said.

He said a fire needs fuel, oxygen and heat, and "if you can take out any one, the fire is going to go out."

Boulder County Fire Operations Specialist Seth McKinney said a primary cause in re-stoking slash piles are high wind events, such as Friday's 70 mph gusts, which aren't always forecast far in advance.

"We all want to get our mitigation work done and do it cost-effectively and cost-efficiently, but unfortunately we get examples time to time on how we need to fine-tune this," he said about the county's open burn permit program.

Burning brush not easily hauled off rural properties is something McKinney called a double-edged sword and Long called a Catch-22 because, while it's a necessity, it's also a risk.

"I think the biggest take-home message is our citizens just need to be aware of anything that can go wrong," Long said.

According to Boulder County's quick open burning guide, slash piles are allowed all year above 6,400-feet elevation and between March 1 and Oct. 31 at or below 6,400 feet.

But in the mountains, there must be 5 inches of snow extending 30 feet in all directions, whereas no snow cover is required in the plains during the designated burn period.

"We're having a pretty dry winter even though we've had some snow, but it's long since melted off below that 5-inch mark, even up in the higher elevations," McKinney said.

Additionally, the Rogers Fire site sits well below 6,400 feet, meaning its burn period starts March 1.

Long said there have been times when they've completed controlled burns in the mountains, it snows and then a fire starts somewhere. He said he's even seen wildland fires on Alaskan tundra.

Weaver said it is illegal to burn a slash pile in Longmont, whereas Long said Weld County tends to be more lenient. But he said the fire marshal called a man burning a pile Friday, asking him to hold off.

Long said if anybody has questions, they should call their local fire department.

Amelia Arvesen: 303-684-5212, arvesena@times-call.com or twitter.com/ameliaarvesen

Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.

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