DENVER (AP/CBS4) – A year after Colorado’s worst wildfire season on record, which included a destructive blaze started by the state, Colorado officials said Wednesday they will resume limited preventive burning on state lands.
But full-scale preventive forest fires won’t be back until there’s more review.
Gov. John Hickenlooper made the change by executive order Wednesday, signing the rule change after noting with relief the snowy Rocky Mountains visible just outside. The recent snowy weather “takes some of the anxiety away” that Colorado is in for another parched, wildfire-packed year, he said.
Hickenlooper amended an executive order he issued last March to stop state burning. Hickenlooper’s new order signed Wednesday allows so-called “slash pile” burning, or the burning of piled forest debris.
“We’ve got to make sure that we are actively working with counties and municipalities throughout the state to make sure that we’re covering every possible eventuality that could occur,” Hickenlooper said.
A state fire official says those slash pile burns will be done only when there is at least 4 inches to 6 inches of snow on the ground, to prevent wildfire. Another change is that neighbors will now have to be notified of state slash pile burning.
The governor’s order called slash pile burns “the least expensive and most effective” way to clear state forests of dangerous undergrowth and brush.
The order does not allow the immediate resumption of larger state prescribed burns. A prescribed burn in the foothills west of Denver last March caused the larger Lower North Fork Fire, which destroyed or damaged 23 homes and left three people dead in Jefferson County. It also caused about $11 million in damage.
Hickenlooper’s order allows the resumption of larger burns only after further review. The governor said Wednesday that prescribed burns can be important to forest health, but he added, “Politically you see all the risks, but you don’t see the upside.”
The governor vowed that prescribed burns would begin only after the state goes “above and beyond what are commonly considered best practices.”
Hickenlooper’s orders Wednesday also call for more study of wildfire prevention and increased education about fire insurance.
A lawmaker whose district includes areas scorched by the Lower North Fork Fire, Republican Rep. Cheri Gerou, attended the governor’s ceremony and applauded the changes. But she said afterward that more needs to be done, pointing to bills pending in the Legislature. Those include extending an income-tax deduction for homeowners in fire-prone areas who complete wildfire mitigation attempts, such as trimming shrubs and trees and removing dead brush from their property.
Gerou said Lower North Fork victims “have still gotten nothing” from the state.
The governor’s measures are also aimed at wildfires that aren’t started by the state. He mentioned more of 2012’s most damaging blazes, including summer’s High Park and Waldo Canyon fires.
“It was just a very hard year,” Hickenlooper said.
Despite the snow outside, the governor warned Colorado could be in for another dry summer if snows don’t continue through March and April.
“There is still a tremendous level of caution,” he said.
– By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer
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