Glacier View residents say area too dry and windy for The Nature Conservancy’s prescribed burn that turned into a wildfire. Fort Collins Coloradoan
Complex weather underestimated by fire personnel was among the causes of a northern Larimer County prescribed burn that turned into last fall’s Elk Fire and forced the evacuation of Glacier View residents
The new information was part of the findings released by the Colorado Department of Public Safety Compliance and Professional Standards Office, or CDPS, at its presentation to Livermore and Glacier View communities Sunday.
“What we found was that this escape was the result of a variety of complex factors — some factors that are probably common at a lot of prescribed fires, but which compounded over a very short matter of time on Oct. 16 to lead to this wildfire,” said Bobbie Mooney, the CDPS compliance officer who led the review team, in a release.
The prescribed burn was led by The Nature Conservancy on the private Ben Delatour Boy Scout Ranch as part of a forest restoration effort aimed to reduce the impact of high severity wildfires on Elkhorn Creek. Area residents were upset at the time that the prescribed burn was started given the dry, windy conditions.
According to the report, the first day, Oct. 15, 2019, resulted in 385 acres being successfully burned. But on the second day, the 120-acre prescribed burn in complex terrain went wrong when weather conditions quickly turned drier, warmer and windier.
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That allowed the fire to escape around 3 p.m. An hour later, crews recognized onsite resources were not enough to contain the fire burning toward the Glacier View community and quickly called for immediate ground and aerial resources.
The Elk Fire resulted in the mandatory and voluntary evacuations of hundreds of Glacier View residents and 118 acres burned outside of the planned prescribed burn boundaries. No one was injured. One outbuilding was destroyed by the fire.
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CDPS plans to release a full report on the review and its findings within the next two weeks. The review was the first conducted in response to legislation passed in 2013 that requires a formal review following the escape of any prescribed fire.
The review found no single factor as the cause of the prescribed burn escaping but said “many interrelated factors together created the conditions leading to the escape.”
Among those factors were:
- Prescribed fire personnel undervalued the actual risk of burning the second day of the burn.
- The prescribed fire project was implemented in accordance with the prescribed fire plan, however, weaknesses in the plan came into play and compounded on one another, leading to implementation of the project under weather and fuel moisture conditions that exceeded reasonable limits for prescribed fire in the project area.
- Inadequate analysis of weather information during implementation of the project prevented fire personnel from accurately understanding current conditions.
- Fire leadership were qualified and experienced in their positions but several participants interviewed noted a lack of experience among participants because the project was a “collaborative burn,” using personnel from multiple agencies partnering together to leverage resources and enhance learning and training opportunities.
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