Grand County conducts workshop about open burning program
February 11, 2008
The Devil’s Thumb Valley is considered a tough spot to be in this year, according to the foreman of the Grand County’s Natural Resources department.
Although the scenic vistas of the Ranch Creek Drainage are outstanding and you can all but hear the Native American ancestors who once roamed the land, during this year’s burn season, residents are being exposed to more than their share of smoke signals.
Residents choked into the morning recently when a permittee “overstepped bounds” and let a pile burn well into the night, during which the temperature dropped to about 20 below, according to department Foreman Jennifer Murray.
The warmer air lingered above cooler air that had sunk down from the Continental Divide, and smoke got caught in between ” a scenario to which the Ranch Creek Drainage is susceptible due to the area’s unique geographic dynamics.
Murray calls it a “natural chimney” between Winter Park Ranch and the Reserve at Elk Horn Ridge. “Smoke tends to lay there,” she said.
The permittee, who according to Murray fudged accurate information to get the permit in the first place (such as the size of the burn piles), was issued a warning as the department continues its educational campaign about burning in the Fraser Valley.
Any subsequent offense, however, will be cited, Murray said.
According to her, it’s the second instance of mass complaints the department has had this season out of 4,500 piles that have burned successfully county-wide, which equates to about 500 permits.
“I hope to ideally stop those instances by really trying to explain the program and what the parameters are,” she said.
A public workshop about the county burn program is being held at 6:30 p.m., Feb. 13 at the Road and Bridge Conference Room at 467 E. Topaz in Granby, and both smoked-out victims and those who hold permits are welcome.
Despite instances where people are affected, one fact remains: “We can’t stop open burning” completely, Murray said.
Such instances stem from miscalculations and miscommunications, she said, and the department strives to avoid them at all costs to protect the air quality and the health of Valley residents.
But to cease the program altogether would be far more detrimental to the area, as the possibility of wildfire onset by the abundance of dead trees is a constant threat.
Residents race to create defensible spaces around homes, and the results of those efforts are piles and piles of wood waste.
Thus, the burn program.
The state Public Health and Environment’s Air Quality Control Division enforces strict laws on air quality, so the county cannot be more flexible than it already is in its program, Murray explained.
By the same token, burn seasons are short, and the county is trying to fit a lot of residents’ burning into tight windows, causing occasional problems in air quality.
“At about 10:30 a.m., ventilation is good, and it stays good until dusk,” Murray said. After that, the area is notorious for having extreme drops in temperatures at night.
And burn piles must be put out before that happens.
Murray gets frequent updates from the National Weather Service about northeast Colorado ventilation rates, and accordingly prescribes what days are good for burning.
“When it says ‘excellent’ we let burning happen,” she said.
The site is deemed reliable.
“In the three months we’ve been burning, (the information) has only changed on us once,” she said.
” Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.