Each winter Larimer County’s Department of Natural Resources burns dozens of slash piles – branches and other small diameter wood produced during forest thinning operations – to improve forest health and reduce the threat of wildfire. New state regulations allow continued slash burning but require additional safety precautions.
The new state regulations strengthen Larimer County’s open burning ordinance that has been in place for years. Local ordinances require the landowner to notify local fire dispatch before and after the burn and require at least 3-inches of snow on the ground, prior to ignition.
“The Department of Natural Resources works closely with Larimer County’s Emergency Services Unit and local fire authorities to notify the public of planned burns and to make sure they are safe,” said Jeffrey Boring, resource specialist with Larimer County Natural Resources and public information officer for the department’s prescribed burns.
The new regulations require additional training by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, a consortium of federal and state wildfire management agencies. State law requires all pile burns to be conducted by an NWCG certified Burn Boss Type III. The requirements for this certification include 73 hours of wildland fire related courses, multiple years of wildland firefighting experience and approval by an acting Burn Boss Type III. Currently three Larimer County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Services staff are completing the Burn Boss Type III training and will be certified before any slash pile burning on Larimer County properties.
The new regulations also require a Prescribed Fire Plan for each property where pile burning is conducted. Larimer County will burn piles at Horsetooth Mountain Open Space, Hermit Park Open Space and Carter Lake County Park and is finalizing the Prescribed Fire Plans for each of these properties. “The burn plans for each property are communication tools we use to make sure all of our project outreach and notifications are made, that the site conditions are well described and we have an action plan for managing smoke, the equipment needed to conduct the burn and how to protect property and public safety,” said Justin Whitesell, emergency services specialist with the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office. “Each plan serves as a contract between Larimer County Natural Resources and the Sheriff’s Office; the Natural Resources Department is officially delegating its authority to conduct pile burns on county park and open space property,” he added.
Land managers are hoping for heavy snow and if they are lucky, they plan to burn more than 1,000 piles over the winter. “We have hundreds of piles at Hermit Park, Horsetooth Mountain and Carter Lake, many of which have been there for years due to poor burning conditions,” said Jeffrey Boring. “The new regulations are coming at a great time because Larimer County has a larger, better trained work force dedicated to planning and burning slash; we’re prepared to do a lot of pile burning this winter,” he added.