As the 13,000-acre Beaver Creek Fire continues to burn in northern Colorado, Summit County encourages residents to protect their homes before the chips are down.
“This could be a hot one,” said Summit County community development director Jim Curnutte, a member of the CSU Extension’s Wildfire Council. “When you see the news, all the fires happening, I think it keeps it at the forefront of people’s minds.”
For the third year, Summit County will once again offer its chipping program to help local homeowners dispose of slash. Participation has steadily increased each year, with a total of 1,973 local landowners setting out woodpiles in 2015.
This year, the program kicked off with northern and southern Summit County. Contractors with Colorado Tree Specialists will visit each neighborhood twice between July and September to chip as much of the chucked wood as possible.
“We run the program all summer long as kind of a traveling chipper show,” Curnutte laughed.
HOW MUCH WOOD?
Despite the thousands of homeowners that mitigated their homes in 2014 and 2015, local Colorado State University extension director Dan Schroeder said they expected just as many to participate in the program this year.
“Only 10 percent of homes in Summit County have put wood out,” Shroeder said. “This program could really be viable for a long time.”
Looking at the county’s GIS map, Shroeder added many of the new participants in 2015 were adjacent to those who had put out slash in 2014.
“They put out wood last year because they saw their neighbor putting out wood the first year,” he said.
Last year, chipping crews removed a total of 5,254 slash piles, carrying 7,000 cubic yards of chips to Climax Mine for land reclamation purposes. In the program’s first year, the chips were hauled to a biomass plant in Gypsum, but when the plant caught fire in December, program leaders scrambled to find another use for the wood.
“They’re remediating one of the big tailings ponds out there,” Curnutte said of Climax. “It’s a good use of the woody biomass.”
Thanks to a $50,000 grant from the Colorado Division of Natural Resources, matched by funding from a countywide property tax approved in 2008, the program will continue again throughout the summer.
This year, the Summit Association of Realtors is also putting together a team to assist homeowners who don’t have the ability to haul stacks of slash to the curb. They are also launching a small defensible space grant program for locals who would like to mitigate their property, but don’t have enough resources.
After getting a free defensible space evaluation from their local fire department, homeowners may apply for a $250 to $1,000 grant to help cover the cost of tree removal, trimming and other mitigation efforts. If a grant is received, the fire department will return to ensure the area has been properly mitigated.
“Homeowners who create defensible space are removing flammable vegetation that could light their home on fire,” Schroeder said. “They are breaking up the fuel continuity.”
For homeowners seeking to spruce up their property, he advised clearing all flammable vegetation within 30 feet of the eaves of their roof, and allowing “pockets of plants and trees” between 30 and 100 feet away.
DO’S AND DON’TS
The program does have one key difference this year: willow will no longer be accepted for chipping, as it does not chip well, and ends up clogging the machine.
“Many homeowners are not aware of that. We’re seeing a number of homes that have put out willow,” he said. “They’re doing a great, diligent job of looking at their own landscape and trying to thin it out. It needs to be trees and branches — not shrubbery, weeds, grass clippings or rose bushes.”
The Summit County Chipping Program accepts trees, logs and tree branches up to 9 inches in diameter, free of nails, wire and rope. Chipping crews will not accept shrubs, willows, construction materials, treated lumber, fence posts, root wads, stumps, weeds, bagged materials, grass clippings or trash.
“Of course, we can’t take any sort of construction materials either,” Curnutte said. “Nails and other metal might be in there, could cause problems with the chipper machines.”
Slash piles must be stacked by 8 a.m. on the Monday of the neighborhood’s designated chipping week, though they may be picked up throughout the week. Piles must be stacked neatly within 5 feet of the roadway. The maximum pile size is 5-feet high, 5-feet wide and 5-feet deep. There is no limit to the number of piles a property owner may set out.
To keep chips for mulch or other purposes, participating residents may tie a red ribbon or flagging in a prominent spot on the pile.