By Annie Mehl
Between the freshly cut pine trees near Shanahan Ridge, a crew of foresters and volunteers took turns chipping away at tall, dense trees Aug. 23.
While crew members and volunteers with Boulder Open Space & Mountain Parks started thinning the trees in May, pruning clusters of pine in hopes of preventing or at least lessening the impact another wildfire could have, leaders hope more community members take action to prevent blazes.
Over recent decades the city, county and other government agencies have started implementing wildfire mitigation tactics such as tree thinning to prevent or hinder future wildfires.
For the past six years, the University of Colorado Boulder Center for Sustainable Landscapes and Communities has partnered with the city to provide community outreach regarding forest health and fire mitigation. The center, which also works with the county, additionally has helped by planning field trips for community members to see where thinning or prescribed burns are being done.
“After the Calwood fire, we had a webinar during the pandemic and had 300 some odd people (attend),” said Karen Hollweg, lead community collaboration on forest health with CU’s center. “We are building the number of people that are aware and the field trips have grown.”
One of the center’s goals is to make more people aware of the free wildfire assessments the city offers homeowners. The shorter, initial evaluation is a curbside assessment. The 10minute process is completed by Boulder Fire-Rescue.
“We do a quick assess- ment of the potential vulnerability that homes may face,” said Erin Doyle, Boulder Fire-Rescue wildland fire specialist. “We look at construction type, like what it’s made of (as well) as is there combustible vegetation in a 5-foot boundary?”
One example of combustible vegetation Doyle advises against is juniper. The shrubs are dangerous because of all of the dead pieces rooted at the center of the plant.
“Juniper really does tend to be the gasoline of the wildland fire spread,” he said. “It’s got its own campfire.”
In addition to the initial assessment, residents can also request a detailed wildfire home assessment. During this hour-long assessment, members of Boulder Fire-Rescue take a 360-degree look at the home and then send homeowners a report with a list of what they should address.
Frances Hartogh said Doyle inspected her home in 2019 after she requested the detailed assessment.
“Probably the most critical thing (from the assessment) was to move our firewood out from under the house,” she said. “We moved it into the garage.”
Hartogh said Doyle also showed her clusters of pine needles that had been blown off her neighbor’s tree and landed between the stucco of her house and the ground.
“He pointed out that behind the stucco was wood framing and any spark that would get into that area could light the entire house on fire,” she said. “We’ve done a lot of work to get the pine needles out from near the house. (The assessment) was brilliant. There were so many things that I didn’t know.“ This year, the city plans to have about 140 acres of forest thinned near Shanahan Ridge Trailhead. About 300 acres has been thinned in Boulder over the past 15 years, said Chris Wanner, vegetation stewardship supervisor with Boulder Open Space & Mountain Parks.
Wanner said the idea behind thinning trees is to create spacing amongst the trees — not to clear them out all together.
“We really want to make sure that we’re doing it ecologically based and really favoring kind of a mix of size classes but making sure that they’re not all right up against each other,” he said.