Controlled Burns Prevent Wildfires, But Regulations Make It Very Hard

"Even though the 2021 Marshall Fire made it clear that the fire threat posed by Colorado’s grasslands endangers large urban areas, federal, state and local rules continue to make it difficult to address the risk."

"Colorado’s snowcapped Rockies towered in the distance on a crisp April day as firefighter Emilio Palestro used a torch to ignite damp prairie grass within view of a nearby farmhouse and a suburban neighborhood.

Propelled by a breeze, orange flames crackled up a ditch bank, devouring a thick mat of dead grass, cornhusks and weeds. It was neither too windy, nor too humid, nor too hot — a rare goldilocks moment for firefighters to safely clear irrigation ditches of weeds, grasses and brush that can block the flow of water and spread wildfire.

“At this time of year, it’s a race against what we call green-up,” said Seth McKinney, fire management officer for the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office, as eye-stinging smoke curled over newly emerging shoots of grass nourished by a wet winter. “We are threading that needle to find the right time in between a rainstorm, red flag conditions” — when winds, temperatures and dry conditions magnify wildfire risk — “and snow melt.”

McKinney is trying to prevent conflagrations like the Marshall Fire, the most destructive wildfire in the state’s history, which killed two people and incinerated 1,084 residences and seven businesses in December 2021. That fire ignited in overgrown grasslands crisscrossed by unkempt ditches, which together spread flames into urban areas with unprecedented speed, according to scientific simulations and eyewitnesses."

Jennifer Oldham reports for ProPublica May 12, 2023, co-published with Colorado News Collaborative.

Source: ProPublica, 05/15/2023