Wednesday May 02 2012
Mt. Howell controlled burn begins May 9
By: Martha Garcia, Colfax Record Editor
Cal Fire project will reduce risk of wildfires
Cal Fire is scheduled to set small brush, grass and pine needles afire Wednesday as it begins a yearlong project to manage the fuel on the 38-acre Mt. Howell Lookout site. ?We?re going to turn the area into a SPLAT, which is a strategically placed land area treatment,? said Cal Fire Battalion Chief Chris Paulus. The project is intended to slow the flow of unwanted wildfire in the area between Colfax and Weimar, west of Interstate 80. ?If we get a fire moving from the west, toward Colfax, it?s a good place to stop or slow the fire,? he said. Paulus said the burn will also help eradicate invasive species such as Scotch broom, as well as French and Spanish broom, which in the last three to four years have become a significant problem in the area. The bushes ? which are prolific seed producers ? burn very aggressively because of oils and resins and the significant amount of dead vegetation that accumulates. Property owners should do their part to eradicate Scotch broom, he said, because the problem will become greater if not dealt with. ?People need to be pulling that stuff out by hand and getting rid of it off their property,? he said. The project will also provide neighbors of the lookout property defensible space. Wildlife will benefit from the project because it will rid their habitat of hot destructible fuel. No trees will be destroyed; instead there will be pile burning and low-intensity and understory burning below trees, creating grow-back of more plants. ?The greater your plant diversity, the greater your wildlife diversity,? Paulus said. And, he said, the burn will improve the timber stand quality. ?As we do our understory burn, we?ll protect the already established timber here,? he said. The prescribed burns will also protect the lookout structure ? staffed with volunteers only during fire season when there is significant lightning or red-flag fire conditions ? and the microwave communications equipment on the mountain. Cellular phone companies also have leases for their cell towers on the 38-acre state-owned property. ?The cell towers and microwave are big part of people?s daily lives, along with commerce and business transactions,? Paulus said. The project will provide a training opportunity for both volunteer and career firefighters. In addition to Cal Fire, agencies involved are the Colfax City Volunteer Fire Department, Placer County Fire and California Department of Fish and Game, and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and its inmate handcrews. According to Paulus, when the burning begins at about 9:30 a.m. May 9, and again on May 16, smoke will be visible coming off the western side of the mountain throughout the day. The northern side of the mountain will be covered with smoke later this spring because the project will continue on and off for the next year. There will probably be six understory burns and pile burning throughout the winter, in sizes from 2 ½ to 8 acres each time, and crews will be patrolling the area for several days after each burn, he said. Paulus said Cal Fire has been working to get the project off the ground for a year and a half. It involved grant writing, an extensive permitting process, archaeological surveys and ground inspection. Once the project is completed, the Mt. Howell Lookout property will become a demonstration area for the Placer Sierra Fire Safe Council to hold organized tours for the public and student groups. They will ?see how proper fuel management and reduction is done, (the) restoration of low-intensity fire back to the ecosystem, and (it will be) an opportunity for folks to come out after we?re done, come and observe, and go through the property,? Paulus said.