By Spencer Wilson

KEYSTONE, Colo. (CBS4)– The whole idea of lighting piles of wood in the middle of areas that we don’t want to catch fire could sound counterintuitive. But White River National Forest service crews say one way or another, those trees will burn, be it next year or 200 years from now. And making sure they don’t all burn at the same time, and super hot, is just good forest protection.

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“What we want to do is break up the continuity in these stands of trees, so they are less dense,” Ryan Hughes, Burn Specialist with the national forest explained, moments before setting a massive pile of lumber ablaze. “What we really try to do here is mimic a natural disturbance.”

The piles are cut in the summer and burned in the winter, with a whole year’s time to dry out and burn quickly when the time comes. Crews tackle hundreds of piles a day, all to relieve the dense forest of excess fuels and give wildfire firefighters a chance in the event the woods do catch flame.

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“It is not something that is necessarily going to stop a wildfire but it slows it and lowers its intensity so it gives firefighters a place where they might be able to engage more safely,” David Boyd with the White River National Forest told Mountain Newsroom reporter Spencer Wilson.

The piles are a combination of deadwood, freshly cut wood in dense areas and beetle kill. Each pile burns for an average of 3 or so hours, while crews have a watchful eye on the situation.

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Crews said they had to delay starting this mitigation because this year has been especially dry, but they are hoping to get moving on more piles as more snow falls.

Spencer Wilson