Outdoor Adventures – Fuels, weather and topography
January 28, 2010
On Jan. 1 I wrote in this column about a bioregional quiz I found and wanted to know the answers. This week I talked to many people in the county to help me find the answer to Question 4: When was the last time a fire burned in your area?
On June 2007, the year I moved to Grand County, there was a fire at the YMCA of the Rockies that burned 50 acres. In June 2006 a 100 acre fire burned near Williams Fork.
The largest and most recent fire burned in June 1980. Called the Middle Supply Creek Fire, it was northwest of the Village of Grand Lake and burned 477 acres over two days. It started from an abandoned campfire.
According to the Forest Service report, the fire spread through the night on June 30 and was contained the following day. Weather conditions leading up to the fire included little rainfall, high pressure, low humidity and gusty wind. The fuel was lodgepole pine on a 10-15 percent slope.
Francie de Vos of Fraser remembered that day. She was at a wedding at Mary Jane in Winter Park and noticed the dark, smoky sky to the north. Judy Burke, Grand Lake Mayor, remembered the orange flames and black sky, and how everyone in town thought the fire would move toward the golf course and Columbine Lake. Judy told me that the fire created awareness in Grand Lake that prompted them to become better prepared in the future.
Dan Nolan of Hot Sulphur Springs worked for the Forest Service and was called to the fire that day. More than 130 men and women arrived at the scene to help extinguish the fire, from district firefighters, to local volunteers, and even Hot Shots from California were called in.
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A few days after the fire, Dan walked through the burn area on beautiful, blue sky day. It was raining seeds from the burned Lodgepole pine cones; already creating the new forest. Five years later Dan came back to Middle Supply Creek area to see what the forest was like and there was a solid carpet of young trees.
This week I learned about Fuels, Weather and Topography; how fire behavior is controlled by these three components. The weather conditions at the Middle Supply Creek area in June 1980 – 5 percent relative humidity and strong winds. There were slash piles of Lodgepole pine from a thinning operation and the fire spread along a contour and downhill to Supply Creek and South Supply Creek drainages.
I stood at the Grand Lake Golf Course looking north to Middle Supply and saw where the fire burned. There is a change in density in the forest that is visual even as far as the clubhouse. I talked to many firefighters and volunteers this week, and learned what our communities are doing to stay prepared for possible fires. They are attending training classes, participating in fires all over the West, and purchasing equipment.
Mike Long, Grand Lake fire chief, explained the 3 Step Plan: 1) have a Preparedness Kit ready 2) plan what you will leave and what you will take with you if you need to leave your home, and 3) know your route and how will you stay informed. The organizations in our county including local governments, federal and state agencies are coming together to shape fire policy and reduce wildland fire risk.
I think we are in good hands. But then again, my personal philosophy, in all life’s endeavors: Expect the worst, hope for the best, and always have a plan.