Apr 112011
Authors: Rachel Childs

rees, grasslands and other vegetation are expected to survive as the Crystal Fire that has burned nearly 3,000 acres of land west of Fort Collins and destroyed up to 15 structures wanes to a halt.

“Environmentally, it’s not a really damaging fire,” said Colorado State Forest Service District Forester Boyd Lebeda.

Lebeda said that spring cold fronts dropped snow into the mountains and pushed high winds from areas of ponderosa and lodge pole pine to low-level grasslands and extrapolating its range during the night on April 2.
Fire teams dumped water and retardant from planes to try and quell the flames early on and then carved out a perimeter to contain the rest of the inferno once it was safe.

“When it’s moving fast with winds behind it, you cannot put crews in front of it. It’s too dangerous,” said CSU fire ecology professor Bill Romme.
The fast-moving blaze took no major toll in regard to the actual brush and trees, according to experts, since fire is a natural ecological occurrence that has burned for several hundred years.

Certain species of plants and animals depend upon wildfires to survive, which make fire management around man-made buildings difficult. The past 100 years of suppressing wildfires has created potential build-up of dead vegetation and overcrowding.

“If there weren’t vulnerable structures and life at risk, they would probably perform some good ecological functions in most cases,” Romme said.
Dryer, browner lowlands burn fast and are less dangerous than fires in the wetter and greener tree-covered portions of the mountains, according to Monique Rocca, an assistant professor in the Forest Rangeland Watershed Stewardship Department.

There were portions of higher-level land that were charred from crown fires, wherein tree tips touch and spread the fire further. Winds and embers also created spotting areas that were outside of the original fire’s range.

Cold spells, rain and snow over the past week aided in containing the fire and allowed firefighters to carve out the perimeter.

Fire is an important ecological process, Romme said, and the forest and grasslands are expected to re-grow over this summer while it will be two to four years before plant life is completely restored.

“People who live in the forest need to be aware that fire has always been a part of the system,” Rocca said.

Staff writer Rachel Childs can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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