By Alan Gionet

DENVER (CBS4)– Smoke and fire rose from the grasslands of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge again Friday as firefighters worked a controlled burn.

(credit: Rocky Mountain Arsenal)

“That’s something that we’ve long done,” said firefighter and spokesperson Sarah Metzer. “In addition to the habitat restoration work that we’re doing and using fire as a tool for that, we also use fire as a tool to mitigate those fuels.”

In recent years neighborhoods have been built even closer to the 27 square miles of the refuge.

“On all sides of us we’re starting to see that growth.”

The Marshall Fire has homeowners and firefighters thinking more about the urban wildland fire interface. Many suburban homeowners and neighborhood associations are coming to fire departments like West Metro to ask about it said Captain Finnegan, who is wildland program coordinator.

(credit: CBS)

“It’s a good time to look at those areas and start making plans to remove some of those fuels,” said Finnegan.

In areas where homes abut wild grasslands and open spaces, it may be a selling point.

“In reality, as we’ve seen it’s also a high fire danger area as well,” said Finnegan. “It’s that fine balance between beauty, privacy, natural resource benefits.”

The Marshall Fire taught them that different things burn and carry fire in the urban interface.

“Trash cans, patio furniture, cushions, and that compact distance between homes was the big one… The homes became a whole other fuel model as they exposed home to home to home.”

He suggests at least three-quarter-inch rock for five feet around a home. In mountain areas, people are looking at removing trees within 30 and 60 foot distances. In suburban areas, neighboring homes may be far closer.

At the wildlife refuge, fire does the work it has always done, reducing fuels and helping to open some fire-dependent grass seeds. But it’s carefully controlled.

(credit: CBS)

“We have built-in certain places that maybe fire would have normally come through that and cleared some of those areas out naturally,” said Metzer.

But she looked forward to how things would green up within weeks after the burns this week, “This will be a lush carpet of green.”

Alan Gionet