Chopping scorched Flying W trees a valuable experience for fire crews

From the Gazette Telegraph 2014

By Andrea Sinclair Published: September 8, 2014 •  1

Chain saws roared and charred trees crashed on rain-moistened grass and brush at Flying W Ranch on Sunday, as a team of firefighters continued the daunting task of clearing nearly 1,600 acres of trees burned in the Waldo Canyon fire. The mitigation project is a partnership between the Colorado Springs Fire Department and Flying W Ranch, which aims to give firefighters essential certification training and help the ranch clear the blackened trees that serve as stark reminders of the destructive 2012 wildfire.

Photo - Americorps workers create a Log Erosion Barrier (LEB) from a downed tree Thursday, April 4, 2013, on the property of the Flying W Ranch. The logs are place across slopes on burned hillsides to intercept water running down a slope and trap sediment. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

"This project is advantageous to fire crews because we are able to get the training time and work on skills necessary during fire attacks," CSFD Capt. Tim DeLeon said. "At the same time, we're preparing Flying W Ranch and mitigating so it won't be a fire hazard in the future."

DeLeon said people may think firefighters only respond to emergencies, but there is a lot of work done before, during and after a wildfire. The mitigation project, which could years to complete, is large enough to keep fire crews busy for a long time. The department will cut down thousands of trees free of charge, but Flying W Ranch staff is responsible for clearing the logs and debris, DeLeon said.

Fire investigators conducted safety checks at the beginning of the year in areas affected by the Waldo Canyon fire and suggested the vast acreage burned at Flying W Ranch could provide firefighters with training opportunities while performing a service to the historic ranch at the same time, DeLeon said.

Fire officials could not say how many trees have been cut down or how much of the area mitigated because the project kicked off at the end of August. About 60 firefighters will keep their chain saw safety and operations certifications up to date, as teams of four to five firefighters visit the ranch two or three times a month until the target area is cleared, DeLeon said.

The contrast between urban and wildland terrains at Flying W Ranch, a critical component of firefighting along Colorado's Front Range, gives fire crews the opportunity to focus on skills that are critical to attack wildfires, driver engineer Rob Hicks said.

"Mitigation is about creating an area that will slow a fire down, and this project gives us the training we need to be able to learn how to cut any type of tree in this environment, combined with the slope and terrain, which is a good mix for practice. It's not just trees on flat ground, which helps us a lot," Hicks said.

DeLeon said Flying W Ranch's location in northwest Colorado Springs was a big draw for firefighters who won't have to travel to remote locations or deploy to wildfires in other states to fulfill their training requirements.


Contact Andrea Sinclair: 636-0235

Twitter @GazetteAndrea