WINTER PARK, Colo. (CBS4) – A massive burn project is underway near Winter Park as the U.S. Forest Service is trying to prevent wildfires by thinning trees on steep terrain. The project could also be good news for Denver Water customers.

Denver Water joined the Forest Service project called “From Forests to Faucets.”

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“This is preventative action we’re taking here,” Denver Water Media Manager Stacy Chesney said.

The Forest Service and Denver Water are spending millions on the project.

“It’s 33 million over the next five years,” Chesney said.

They’re getting rid of the fuel for a wildfire. Twenty-thousand piles of trees were stacked between Winter Park Ski Resort and the town itself.

“If we had a wildfire in this area it could be devastating to watersheds and communities and businesses in this area,” Reid Armstrong with the U.S. Forest Service said.

Denver Water learned a pricey lesson following the Hayman Fire of 2002. After burning for 6 weeks, ash and sediment had to be kept out of the water supply and cleaning it has been costly.

“It’s been millions and millions after those catastrophic fires, and those were 10 years ago and we’re still having to deal with them,” Chesney said.

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The Forest Service says smoke sensitive residents in the Fraser Valley may want to stay indoors on burn days. But when considering how hundreds of homes have been devoured by Colorado wildfires, the controlled burn may be a no-brainer.

“We have a lot of people glad to see us getting this done,” Armstrong said.

Up to 4,000 tree piles per day may be burned this year under a special state smoke permit, compared to the usual limit of 250. In the end the mountains and metro Denver should benefit.

“Catastrophic wildfire can have devastating impacts on our water supply, and so by treating the forest properly we can help prevent that and reduce costs in the future,” Chesney said.

The Forest Service hopes to burn more than half of the 20,000 tree piles in just 7 to 10 days. In the meantime, spending millions should help keep the drinking water clean.

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