Horsetooth Mountain prescribed burn successful but still smoldering

A prescribed fire burned 21 acres of Horsetooth Mountain on Tuesday was visible throughout the northern Front Range. Although the fire event ended Tuesday night, the site will continue to smolder for a few days. Heavy fuels such as logs and slash piles will continue to produce smoke. Larimer County Emergency Services staff, County Rangers and Nature Conservancy staff will continue to patrol the area through the weekend and until the site stops smoldering.

The fire was set on purpose to consume dead plant material or duff that collects under trees in pine forests. Over time, duff layers become thick, reduce plant growth and impact wildlife habitat. A prescribed fire consumes duff, reduces wildfire potential and mimics low-intensity fires that historically occurred throughout the Front Range.

Jeffrey Boring, Larimer County Resource Specialist, called the fire a success. “Our management goals were accomplished,” Boring said. “Based on preliminary data gathered Tuesday night, about 80 percent of the duff targeted with the fire was consumed.” The expected results of the fire include improved soil conditions, a healthier and more diverse forest and improved wildlife habitat.

Prescribed fires also involve thorough coordination with local fire authorities, weather forecasting and notices to local neighbors. Larimer County mailed over 350 notices of the fire to Horsetooth Mountain Open Space neighbors, closed Towers Road and sections of three trails. Press releases were also sent to Larimer County newspapers in advance of the burn date.

That didn’t stop concerned citizens from contacting local authorities when they saw smoke from the fire.

Brian Faith, Fire Operations Manager with Nature Conservancy, helped coordinate the burn event and noted that local authorities received over 300 calls about the fire.

“This is the first prescribed fire we’ve coordinated in the mountains of the northern Front Range. These areas are highly visible and smoke can be seen from dozens of miles away,” said Faith. In fact, some reports suggest that the fire was visible from as far east as Windsor.

Although notices were provided, concerns about wildfire were raised. Larimer County Natural Resources staff are exploring additional methods of notifying landowners before a prescribed fire. “While the on-the-ground fire effects were great, the amount of public concern this planned event generated was not. We’re currently debriefing the event and exploring additional methods of communication such as road signs, greater use of rangers and volunteers and public meetings,” Boring said.

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