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West Vail fire station breaking ground as wildfire season blows in with powerful wind event
A small but furious wildfire in West Vail last summer sparked serious concern among residents. The Vail Fire Department breaks ground on a new West Vail fire station on the old Wendy's site tonight at 5:30. Free barbecue will be served.
By Tom Boyd 

West Vail fire station breaking ground as wildfire season blows in with powerful wind event

By David O. Williams

May 24, 2010 —  The seemingly endless series of weekend spring snowstorms finally gave way to something resembling warmer, drier, more seasonal weather this past weekend in the Vail Valley. But then came the hurricane-force winds.

I exaggerate only slightly. I’ve never seen a more sustained wind event in the Colorado Rockies than what rolled through beginning Friday and continues to nail as I write this Monday morning (in fact, it's actually freaking snowing again).

A camping trip with the boys in the Fruita area over the weekend turned into a monumental struggle for survival (again, I’m engaging in a little hyperbole for dramatic effect) that involved lashing down everything in camp, including small children, and enduring two days of sand and grit in every orifice.

The frightening thing is how fast the landscape dried out after so much moisture beginning in April. Fire season is upon us almost instantly, with a major blaze raging in San Miguel Canyon near Telluride.

Good timing then for some fire-related news. First, the West Vail fire station, which has been in discussions since I moved to town in 1991 but dates back even further (at one point a judge even weighed in that the town desperately needed one there) is finally breaking ground today.

The whole odyssey of the Wendy’s condemnation finally comes to a close with the town at long last spending the money to build a fire station in my neighborhood. Needless to say, I’m psyched, especially with wind whipping through the valley and drying everything out virtually overnight. The station should be up and running by December or January.

And the best part is you can get a free meal out of the deal. Firefighters will be on hand at the old Wendy’s site on North Frontage Road serving up barbecue beginning at 5:30 this evening. Stop on by and show some support.

In other statewide fire new, Gov. Bill Ritter Friday, after a briefing with the state forester, said Colorado is headed for an average wildfire season thanks to a wet spring and near-normal winter for snowfall. But the governor warned the northwest part of the state could be an exception.

Forecasts call for hot, dry weather in northwest Colorado in July and August, and that factor – coupled with ongoing mountain pine bark beetle epidemic – could make that part of the state a hotspot after a relatively quiet 2009 fire season statewide.

Ritter pointed to a $40 million injection of U.S. Forest Service funds to thin dead and dying forests in Colorado and throughout the beetle-ravaged Rocky Mountain region, but he added the state needs to do more to offset mitigation costs.

“We need to aggressively seek out economic opportunities that will reduce the cost of this work, such as converting some of our beetle-killed trees into biofuels and then into electricity,” Ritter said in release.

Vail officials are working to secure U.S. Department of Energy funding for a 28-megawatt biomass power plant that would generate heat and electricity by gasifying chipped-up, beetle-killed lodgepole pine trees.

Colorado State Forest Service Director Jeff Jahnke said people living in fire-prone areas like the foothills and the state’s Western Slope have an obligation to reduce fire risk around their homes by clearing brush and cutting down dead trees on their property.

Some scientists have questioned Ritter’s Colorado Roadless Rule as it relates to logging to reduce forest fire danger, saying the beetle epidemic doesn’t necessarily increase overall fire danger.

But there’s been a growing push to reduce fuel loads in close proximity to mountain towns and ski resorts in the worst-hit areas like Summit, Eagle, Routt and Grand counties.



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