Illegal burn chokes Fraser Valley with smoke
November 18, 2009
Anyone who has questions about air-quality conditions can call the Grand County Natural Resources Office at 970-887-0745.
This winter, citizens will be able to see where legal burns are happening on a new interactive feature on the Grand County Web site at http://www.co.grand.co.us. Information about the Fraser Valley air quality is also being posted on gcemergency.com.
The man who lit burn piles on the Bulkley Ranch on CR 72 – causing thick smoke to linger in the Fraser Valley for two days – claims he got permission from the Grand County Sheriff’s office to do so and was never told about the need for a burn permit.
Contractor Wesley Henderson of West Range Reclamation of Crawford, Colo., was issued a summons by Deputy Terry Faulkner on Tuesday for illegally burning about 20 piles that caused heavy smoke to linger in the Fraser Valley.
According to Henderson, the company was doing free work to help Anne Bulkley, a client from last spring, rid her land of the slash piles.
“It wasn’t part of our contract to burn,” Henderson said. “We were going over and above to make good relations with the client.”
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Henderson said he called the sheriff’s office to share plans of the burn. He was then switched to dispatch and after providing information, said his last question was, “So I’m good to go, I can burn?”
“She told me yes,” Henderson said.
Undersheriff Walt Eldridge confirmed Henderson’s claim, but added that contractors should also contact the county natural resources department.
County laws state that a burn permit must be obtained from the Grand County Department of Natural Resources before lighting piles. The department oversees all burning in the county.
Coincidentally, the county’s official opening day to the 2009-2010 burn season was the day the Bulkley piles were lit, but according to County Natural Resources Foreman Jennifer Scott, the contractor had never attempted to acquire a permit.
No burning was allowed on opening day across the county because of a high-pressure system that would keep most of the smoke close to the ground, compromising the health of those who suffer from asthma and other respiratory problems.
Due to the thick smoke, the Grand County Public Health Office advised people with respiratory problems to stay indoors or leave the area until the smoke cleared.
Grand County regulations also dictate the property owner is equally liable.
The Bulkley ranch owner has been cited by the County and may also face air-quality fines from the State of Colorado, Scott said.
“This is bigger than anybody’s ever done before,” she said.
West Range Reclamation owner Cody Neff said he was “horribly sorry” about the situation.
The company does work in several counties, he said, and usually his workers contact the local sheriff’s office to find out if there are certain requirements. “We definitely didn’t go up there and just start burning piles,” Neff said. “We thought we’d covered all our bases.”
The Fire District investigated the possibility of extinguishing the piles on Tuesday, but due to lack of access and pile size, it was deemed “impossible,” according to East Grand Fire Chief Todd Holzwarth.
An update on Wednesday stated the East Grand Fire district used a Colorado State Forest Service military vehicle to negotiate the rough trails and applied about 7,000 gallons of water on the piles. “There are no visible flames, but there is some smoke and steam coming from the piles,” Holzwarth stated in an e-mail.
According to Holzwarth, the piles themselves were “not constructed very well” and contained stumps that tend to smolder.
“The person that built them was not the person that ignited them,” he said.
Grand County has had its burn program in place since 2001, operating under authority from the state.
A Grand County burn program allows for more local control, Scott said, for cheaper permitting and for faster response times when smoke is in the air.
Scott said the incident should not affect the county’s ability under the state to continue the burn program on a local level.
“This was totally illegal,” Scott said.
“It illustrates the difference we’ve made. Without a doubt, the burn program has made a difference in keeping this from happening most of the time.”