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Mowing the Fines

Fall                                                                 Harvest Moon

January, 2017

January, 2017

As the post below shows, we’re setup to get our first winter storm. We’ve had some snow, though it came and went in Colorado fashion, fast. This one will likely change things here by chilling the ground and preparing the way for snow that actually hangs around a bit. It’s early October, so that’s a bit of a surprise. Looking forward to it, in the way only retired folk can. No commute down the hill, slipping and sliding as everybody tries to remember how to do this. It is way too early to put on the snow tires, isn’t it?

Yesterday was beautiful and today is predicted to be the same. Highs in the 60’s. Mowed the fuel yesterday. Four times this year, I think. We don’t really have a lawn, just lodgepole pines, a few aspen, some rock and bunch grass, though the leach field has a nice plot of green. All those nutrients we send out each day. Reason to mow is to keep what the wildfire folk call “fines”, as in fine fuel, not trees or shrubs, from growing too high. When the fines dry out, they can spread a fire quickly and if there are low hanging branches (below 10 feet) fire can spread from fines to trees. This is known as ladder fuel. The grass burns, a branch catches, then the tree, then its neighbor. After that. Forest fire.

Mitigation, 2015

Mitigation, 2015

Wildfire mitigation has been a primary concern for me since we got here, but after reading Megafire, by Michael Kodas, I have a different perspective. Most of the wildfire mitigation strategies are for ecosystems lower than ours where the ponderosa pines predominate. They tend to have the lower branches, though they are also much more fire resistant than lodgepoles. Much thicker bark and generally bigger, more widely spaced trees. Kodas points out that lodgepole/aspen forests,  dominant in the higher elevations of montane ecosystem between 6,500 and 9,500 feet (we’re at 8,800.), tend to have forest clearing fires every 100 to 300 years.

That means we have less frequent fire risk than the lower elevations, but, when the fire comes it will likely be a crown fire, jumping from treetop to treetop in the closely spaced groves of lodgepole pine. No fire mitigation will protect against a crown fire. When I had the deputy chief of the Elk Creek Fire Department out here to talk about fire mitigation, he said when it comes, a fire will sweep up from the valley through which we drive to get to Evergreen. “Nothing will stand in the way of it,” he said.

crown fireIn a localized fire, mitigation can help a lot. Our house is now pretty well protected with the ignition zone, about 30 feet out from the house, cleared of trees and the trees just at that zone and somewhat further out have had their branches cut to above 10 feet. We have fire-rated shingles and I mow the fines. I’ve not had the gutters cleaned, which is a potential problem, but we’ll get to that next spring. With a flat, short driveway, access from a well tended county road and mitigation our house stands a very good chance of survival. In a crown fire though, no combination of mitigation strategies will keep it standing.

All this means we’ve done what we can. There’s not been a burn here for over a century so our risk, though not high, does exist. We have a lower risk of fire at any one point in time than our lower neighbors. But, when it comes, better be out of here.

So, the key for us now is to have a good disaster plan, a way to make sure we get out what we want and need if we have to evacuate. On Oct. 15th a member of Beth Evergreen is doing a presentation on just that. We’re somewhat of the way there, but we could use some sharpening up.

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