Learn more about the Northern Colorado Fireshed Collaborative's mission, goals and outcomes with this downloadable PDF. Please feel free to share with friends and colleagues.Download the NCFC Fact Sheet >>
Maximizing our use of fire and other forest management techniques is the most efficient and effective way to increase the pace and scale of treatments needed to tackle the challenge of making our forests healthy and resilient. Learn about forest treatments used by Fireshed partners in this slide deck.View Slide Deck >>
The Wildfire Risk Public Viewer is designed to increase wildfire awareness, provide a comprehensive view of wildfire risk and local fire history, and educate users about wildfire prevention and mitigation resources available from the Colorado State Forest Service. This viewer is intended to support homeowners and community leaders.Understand Your Home's Risk >>
This report documents how Potential Operational Delineations (PODs) and USDA Forest Service Risk Management Assistance products were used on the 2020 Cameron Peak Fire on the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and surrounding lands in Colorado. The report utilizes a case study approach and is informed by eight interviews with local managers and incident management team members involved in the Cameron Peak Fire. It is written primarily for land managers and decision makers involved with wildland fire policy and management, with findings organized around a set of lessons learned.Read the Full Report
The Home Ignition Zone offers updated guidance on how residents can prepare their home for wildfire and is produced by the Colorado State Forest Service, which is the lead state agency on providing wildfire mitigation assistance to residents. The guide includes an overview of wildfire mitigation concepts, info on wildfire risk in Colorado and easy-to-follow steps and checklists to address vulnerabilities with the home and reduce fuels to create defensible space.Read and Download the Guide
To view the above StoryMap in full screen visit: https://arcg.is/1HeKCb0
Source: Colorado State Forest ServiceRead the full report >>
Source: Colorado Forest Restoration InstituteView full infographic here >>
Source: The National Association of State Foresters (NASF) and the Coalition of Prescribed Fire Councils (CPFC)Read the full report >>
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research StationRead the report >>
Prescribed fire in our fire-adapted ecosystems restores forests to healthier conditions, reduces and removes dense vegetation that contributes to high-intensity wildfires and protects our communities. Wildfires that burn into areas that have experienced prescribed burning typically cause less damage, are easier to control, and are safer for firefighters. Although hand thinning treatments (chainsaws, slash piles) and mechanical treatments (mastication, heavy equipment for whole tree removal) can help with forest restoration, they cannot replace the valuable ecological work that fire does for our forests. Mechanical and hand thinning treatments are often used to help secure the perimeter or do prep work within the perimeter of prescribed burns.
Risk cannot be completely removed when dealing with fire, but strategic precautions can be taken. Just like when someone builds a campfire, there is always a risk, but steps like a well-constructed fire ring, keeping it small, never leaving it unattended until out cold and having plenty of water all minimize that risk. For a prescribed fire, skillfully trained firefighters implement it only under very specific conditions identified in a burn plan, often do pretreatment around the perimeter, identify nearby water sources or bring water to the location, and adequately staff and monitor the project throughout implementation.
While variable weather means that it’s impossible to completely eliminate risk, over the years, the U.S. Forest Service has improved its ability to safely implement prescribed burns. Between 1996-2001, approximately 10 out of every 1,000 prescribed burns escaped (1%). From 2011 to 2016, this was reduced to 2 out of every 1,000 (0.2%). Most of these did not have a negative outcome to the forests or communities where they occurred.
Every prescribed burn plan includes a contingency plan that details what will be done if a burn escapes, including actions to protect nearby structures and ordering more resources, such as fire engines and aircraft.
Fire-killed snags (standing dead trees) provide habitat to wildlife like cavity-nesting birds, along with other small mammals like pine squirrels. Larger animals, like bighorn sheep, also benefit from increased open space so they can see predators more easily. Animals can also benefit by the increase in amount and quality of forage.
Prescribed burns on National Forest System lands are approved by local land managers with input from well-trained and experienced fire managers. They also must have a smoke permit from the State of Colorado.
Prescribed burns on private lands receive a smoke permit from the county and/or state, depending on the size of the burn and other characteristics.
Mechanical forest treatments that include whole tree removal, as well as hand thinning and slash pile burning treatments, are very important to overall fuels reduction and wildfire mitigation efforts. However, these treatments only get at part of the problem. Mechanical treatments, while they can remove much of the accumulated large and small diameter trees and reduce extreme fire behavior in this way, are not able to deal with the very small diameter fuels or the accumulated duff layer on the ground. Fire is really the only practical way to reduce these fuels. Hand thinning and slash pile burning treatments can also remove many of the small diameter trees that act as ladder fuels and help fire to climb into and spread in the canopy, but these treatments can’t deal with the mid to large diameter trees that need to be removed. Also, many of the understory grasses and forbs need bare mineral soil and heat to regenerate, and mechanical and hand thinning treatments can’t always provide those conditions necessary for those plants.
A “prescription”, or burn plan, describes the conditions and procedures necessary to burn safely and effectively. A prescribed fire is only allowed under specific conditions, depending upon available resources, time of year, and weather to achieve desired results.
The team defines the boundary of the fire using natural barriers, such as cliffs and wetlands, combined with manmade features, such as roads and constructed fuel breaks. Finally, the team outlines the conditions under which the prescription can be used. When these conditions are met, the team is ready for action.
Fire specialists use roads, trails and natural barriers such as rivers, cliffs, avalanche chutes, and recently burned forest to help contain fire spread. To ensure that fire does not spread outside desired areas, trees and shrubs may be cleared to supplement existing barriers.
During a burn, firefighters have firefighting equipment in place to contain the fire within the boundaries and conditions outlined in the prescription. Additional aircraft, crews and equipment are on standby to assist with control if required.
Although fire managers work hard to reduce the risk of an escape during a prescribed fire, escapes do occur infrequently. Most of those escapes are inconsequential and are quickly controlled.
Smoke is an important issue for all fires. Slash pile burning can create a good bit of smoke depending on how many piles are burned. Broadcast prescribed fires can also create a lot of smoke. However, neither type of prescribed burning produces smoke that is comparable to that produced during a wildfire event. All types of prescribed burning require a smoke permit from the county and/or state, which is tailored to the specific day, time, weather conditions, material to be burned, and location of sensitive individuals, in order to minimize the community’s smoke exposure during burning. This type of smoke impact planning is of course not possible during a wildfire event. Prescribed fire smoke also does not include those hazardous materials that may be produced by a wildfire that consumes structures and vehicles.
According to health authorities, the health risk from short periods of exposure to smoke is low for the general public. Children and the elderly are more susceptible to smoke effects. People with heart or lung disease are at a higher risk and should consult their physicians as required. During prescribed burning, community notification measures will enable sensitive individuals to plan for smoke impacts, such as closing windows, staying indoors during the heaviest periods of smoke, running an air filter inside the house, etc.
All firefighting personnel involved in a prescribed fire must be trained to the standards of the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, a national interagency group that sets training and operational standards for wildland fire and prescribed fire. Burn bosses on prescribed fires must achieve the RXB3, RXB2, or RXB1 certification, depending on the complexity of the burn.
“NWCG standards establish common practices and requirements that enable efficient and coordinated national interagency wildland fire operations. These standards may include guidelines, procedures, processes, best practices, specifications, techniques, and methods. NWCG standards are interagency by design; however, the decision to adopt and utilize them is made independently by the individual member agencies and communicated through their respective directives systems.
Incident Position standards are a component of NWCG standards. They enable consistent and uniform performance by personnel mobilized by position under National Interagency Incident Management System – Incident Command System (NIMS-ICS) principles. Incident position standards include incident position descriptions (duties and responsibilities) and position qualification requirements for training, experience, physical fitness, and position currency.”
Colorado does not restrict private landowners from conducting prescribed fires on their land, as long as landowners get the proper smoke permits beforehand. However, there is significant liability involved if a fire were to escape the landowner’s property and do damage elsewhere.
The Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control operates the Certified Burner Program, by which private individuals can be trained to conduct prescribed fires, and through which some of this liability is reduced. From the DFPC website: (https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/dfpc/colorado-certified-burn-program)
“The Colorado Certified Burner program was developed to bring more thoughtful and comprehensive planning into the world of prescribed fire on private lands. By training and certifying private entities to plan and implement prescribed fire in a more systematic and educated manner, similar to that required by policy for natural resource and fire management agencies at all levels of government, the end result would be to promote the relatively safe and efficient use of fire as a management tool regardless of land ownership. The program is also designed to provide some level of civil liability protection for those trained and certified entities.”
According to Senate Bill 13-083, which is also known as the “Colorado Prescribed Burning Act”, a private landowner or landowner’s designee who is certified by the Division as a Certified Burner or qualified by National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) standards as a Prescribed Burn Boss is not liable for civil damages for acts or omissions made in good faith resulting in damage or injury caused by fire or smoke resulting from prescribed burns they conduct on the landowner’s property and in compliance with applicable state laws and local ordinances, unless such private landowner’s or designee’s acts or omissions are grossly negligent or willful and wanton.”
There are also entities that can help with planning and implementing prescribed fires on private lands. In Northern Colorado, the Forest Stewards Guild (foreststewardsguild.org) operates on private lands, and can assist with planning and implementing prescribed burns, both slash pile burning and broadcast burning.
The fire behavior, and resulting tree mortality, that a certain prescribed fire exhibits, is highly dependent on the fuel loading of the site, the weather at the time of the burn, and the topography of the area. Prescribed fires are intended to kill some of the trees. In the ponderosa pine/dry mixed-conifer forest type, prescribed fires are intended to kill many of the small diameter trees that have grown up in the absence of regular fire on the landscape, as it is these small diameter trees that can act as ladder fuels and cause high severity canopy fires during extreme weather conditions. In order to prevent this from happening during a prescribed fire, many times the stand will be thinned beforehand to remove some of these fuels. Scorch on the remaining standing trees can last for a few years, until the bark expands and heals over. Black on the forest floor usually will only last until the next spring, when the grass will green up dramatically with the flush of nutrients and sunlight.
There are several ways to find out about prescribed fires in your area. First and foremost, this website is a great resource. So, you are in the right place! The US Forest Service maintains an email list for notifications of all prescribed burning, including slash piles and broadcast burns. To get on this list, email Reghan Cloudman at email@example.com. For private lands fires, the responsible entities will get the message out well in advance of the planned burn, through social media, regular media, the North Forty Mountain Alliance, email notifications, etc.