Cows could be the cure for coal seam flare-ups | PostIndependent.com
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Cows could be the cure for coal seam flare-ups

As I sit down to write, lightning is flashing and thunder is rolling. I love the show, but am reminded that the area around New Castle and the Grand Hogback has one of the highest lightning strike rates in the state. When I was on the fire department, we had eight lightning strike fires simultaneously. That adds up to a compelling reason to consider the conditions for potential problems. When growing up on the farm, fire was a tool we used to control weeds and help eliminate the hazard of wildfire. That experience was valuable in assessing the potential for problems and/or controlling them. For many years, I single-handedly burned about three miles of ditch on the mountain west of Elk Creek every spring and never had a runaway. To my knowledge, Burning Mountains Fire Department never lost a fire and only had one fire that was not readily controlled, because it was driven by 45 mph winds. Even that was contained after burning about 700 acres, with the loss of only one out-building. With all this experience, good and bad, some reasonable ability to assess conditions has developed.I have occasion to drive up South Canyon Creek fairly often and cannot help but reflect on the so-called Coal Seam Fire of 2002 which roared over the mountain into Glenwood. This fire also jumped the railroad, Colorado River, I-70 and a service road, resulting in the loss of some structures in West Glenwood. Two questions come to mind: (1) Why didn’t it happen before? and (2) Can it happen again? That coal seam has been burning for many years and never before broke out into a forest fire. One obvious answer of course, is that we were in the middle of drought conditions, which, thankfully, seem to have passed. Another difference is that all the years previously, the land had been pastured by cattle. In 2002 the city of Glenwood Springs discontinued this practice, allowing the grass to flourish and then dry out in drought conditions. The fact that the resulting fire did not extend onto the Porter or Richardson ranches adds credibility to that scenario.Can it happen again? The potential is high. Spring moisture has given the grasses a good start. Much of the area is covered with dead oak brush which has about the highest BTU rating of any local firewood. The upper slopes have standing dead spruce which also burns really well. Given the potential for thick dry grass, hot summer days, thunder storms and strong westerly upslope winds, ignoring the conditions might put us back into national news. The staffing problems of Glenwood’s fire department add to the critical issue. Obviously, a fire of the caliber of Coal Seam requires a lot of firefighters. Other departments can help, but response time and initial attack are critical.Taxpayers can be obligated for millions of dollars to put out the Coal Seam Fire or respond to the devastation. However, past history suggests to me that a few cows would solve the problem and maybe even actually generate a little revenue.Those who do not learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them.Ross L. Talbott lives in New Castle.


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