Fire tree update

19 07 2010

The tree fire is long out. While we’re scorching now in Southwest Colorado (and elsewhere – Denver hit 100 Saturday, even as did Cortez, straight south of the basin as the raven flies), we had rain awhile back, and it’s likely that doused the flames on the tree fire I reported almost two weeks ago.

The fire management officer from the Dolores Public Lands Office (who coordinates both Forest Service and BLM crews) was super nice and met me last week to make the long drive to the basin and have a look. What he could tell us would fill a book (and likely does somewhere, for aspiring young wildland firefighters), but the upshot is the basin would probably never suffer from a catastrophic wildfire because there simply are not the “combustibles” to fuel it (my word – I’m pretty sure he never said that actual word :)).

Here’s the “overall” scene. The tree that burned is fringed with brown on its needles – sort of middle/upper right. The dead branch in the foreground at right also burned, as well as the black stump you can barely make out just left of center, as well as some other branches that apparently were consumed by their respective fires. See the little green tree immediately behind the black stump? It’s hard to tell how close it is, but it’s close. That’s pinon – the tree that burned is Utah juniper (I also learned the difference between Rocky Mountain and Utah juniper) – and it wasn’t touched, apparently. But then see what looks like the dead, fallen trunk at far left? It’s attached to those singed needles you see at upper left (against the blue sky). That likely came from the fire, but the tree as a whole should live – even though it looks like it’s on the ground. So did the tree that burned before the fire burned through its horizontal trunk and put the “crown” on the ground, where it fell on another little bush with round little leaves … not a pinon or juniper. I imagine that poor little thing is toast. But hopefully you can also see in this picture, beneath the scattered woodsy debris (I’m surprised it didn’t burn), is grey dirt – which is sort of a mix of dirt and shaley rock – very fine – you can hear it crunch and crackle when you walk over it. And you can maybe get a sense of how far apart the trees are in this area. The FMO did note areas he thinks have burned previously, but grass may never take hold here – not well – because of the poor alkaline soil.

Between the near black stump (hard to see in the first picture) and the rest of the tree used to be the trunk, which burned completely and totally through and away. See where the bark of the tree looks skinned away? The FMO said that’s the path of the lightning strike. Not really a “scar” as much as it just burned from the top to the bottom through that “papery” layer of bark – basically, it’s “firestarter” – kindling.

Nature at work.

Be careful out there while you’re camping this summer. It seems like many places in the country are feeling the heat this summer, and particularly in the West, ’tis the season for fires – wild and otherwise. Some local Back Country Horsemen, out for a ride in the national forest close to where I live and have been mountain biking, were out for a day ride recently and came across a campfire someone(s) had left burning! (By the accompanying pictures, it was big.) Let’s have a collective gasp for the stupidity factor! Bless those horse folks for giving up ride time to not only put out the fire but CLEAN UP THE TRASH left behind! This was a possible disaster waiting to happen – many ponderosa pine trees and Gambel oak – forest – in other words, loaded with “fuel.” There are homes in the area, and it’s a popular recreation entry point to the forest for locals.

My thanks again to the FMO for coming out to the basin and enhancing my education about natural forces – which include fire. Here in the basin, the outcome was hopefully more benefit than disaster (maybe birds will make use of the tree as it decays … maybe some grasses will spring up in spite of the soil …). We even saw a few horses: Chrome’s band let us squeak by on the road pretty close, and Seven’s, Grey/Traveler’s and Hollywood’s were visible at distances in different areas.

Circle of life. 🙂


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2 responses

20 07 2010
karenday

TJ,
This is frightening..to think of fires in the area that could spell disaster.
Is there a warden to patrol the area from time to time? Maybe a sign like in fishing…”must have a license to park, camp,hunt, etc,… or the warden will fine you”/

20 07 2010
TJ

Well, it was scary in the beginning, but the upshot of it was that it was nothing to cause undo worry. I’ve met one of the BLM law-enforcement officers driving around from time to time, as well as Division of Wildlife officers. Not sure what a sign would accomplish – this was a lightning strike. Besides, some people ignore the signs anyway – like the great big large huge sign right as you drive in that tells you to stay on the established roads. I still see ATV tracks all off the roads and up the wider arroyos.

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