Silver Creek Fire crews begin repairing effects of suppressing the blaze; cost so far at around $10.2 million
Last week when the Silver Creek Fire was raging through the Routt and Arapaho National Forests, crews had one goal in mind: to keep the flames away from nearby structures at Latigo Ranch and Old Park.
But with almost an inch of rainfall in the area over the last week that helped to wet fuels and increase containment to 36 percent, the blaze has died down and crews have a new mission to repair the firelines that were crucial to mitigating the fire.
“We don’t want to leave it a mess,” said Type 2 safety officer Dick Terry. “And the Forest (Service) still wants people to come back here and enjoy the forest so that’s going to enable the public to get back in safely.”
Repair work includes clearing out trees that pose safety hazards, covering up dozerlines, preparing for potential floods or mudslides and cleaning up and leveling out roads. It relies heavily on machinery.
For the Silver Creek Fire, which currently sits at 4,745 acres, around 22 miles of dozer and handlines will need to be repaired. Crews have already begun repair work in divisions F, A and R, which are the areas of the fire closest to structures and that are a majority contained.
“There are some crews doing chipping along the road, there’s an excavator doing some water barring,” Terry said. “They’ll be piling some of the slash, or treetops and limbs, on the dozerline just to keep them from washing and keeping the public from driving where they don’t want them to drive.”
Of course, dozerlines won’t be covered until fire officials feel positive they no longer need the line to contain the fire, explained Terry. Until that call is made, crews have been removing hazardous trees and any at risk of falling on the roads, mainly Forest Road 100.
The trees will either be mulched and laid over dozer lines to help prevent flooding, chipped to reduce available fuel or salvaged for selling or consumer use. Crews also previously thinned areas of the forest near dozerlines as a contingency for the fire and those materials removed will be mulched as well.
“Once we’re done with this process here, we’ll come through with the dozers and probably excavators and push all (the mulch) back on here to cover (the dozerline) up and make it look natural again as best we can,” said John Haskvitz, task force leader.
Crews will also put water bars, or small trenches designed to divert water off an existing path to help avoid erosion, along firelines and grate the roads that were torn up by heavy machinery. They will also repair any damages on private property that they may have caused, such as broken fences.
Since both constructing the firelines and repairing them is machine intensive, it can be quite costly. So far, the total cost of fighting the fire, which started on July 19 from a lightning strike, and repairing the damage is about $10.2 million.
The goal of the repairs is not only human safety, but also to help the forest recover from any actions fire crews might have taken in their suppression efforts. Hugh Fairfield Smith, a heavy equipment boss trainee, said the forest will regrow stronger after the fire and the repair efforts take into account the natural process.
“With the mulch, it will help retain the seeds and spread them out so grass can grow back very nicely,” Fairfield Smith said.
Once the fire is put out, a specialty team known as the Burned Area Emergency Response team will try to rehab the areas of the forest damaged by the fire. This work aims to minimize fire impacts to vegetation and wildlife.
The BAER team has already begun assessing the Silver Creek Fire using air resources to get an idea of what their next steps will be.
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