Big Meadows Fire: Hard to fight with the potential to impact Colorado-Big Thompson facilities

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

The team, which assumed command of firefighting efforts Thursday morning, can be only so aggressive because the Big Meadows Fire is burning through a “jacklegged” forest, he said. That’s the term foresters use for trees that have fallen on each other and are propped up by other trees, both living and dead. When the forest burns and the jacklegged trees shift, they fall, potentially crushing firefighters on the ground. The Big Meadows Fire is burning through a forest on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park that is 80 percent dead and fallen trees. It was hit early in the region’s bark beetle epidemic. The trees there died long ago, and many have been standing dead for nearly a decade. The roots have rotted away and the trees have fallen on each other, forming layer after layer of dead trees and creating a “ladder” of wildfire fuel from forest floor to canopy, Bobowski said.

If the fire spreads, it will be extremely hazardous to stop. And that means the town of Grand Lake and the reservoirs on the Colorado River that supply Fort Collins with nearly half of its water supply are threatened. “Even at 600 acres, we will see some impacts from this,” said Brian Werner, spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the manager of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, of which Horsetooth Reservoir is a part.

Tonahutu Creek spills directly into Grand Lake, which is where water the city takes from Horsetooth Reservoir is pumped beneath Rocky Mountain National Park. Small amounts of silt, ash and debris are likely to wash into Grand Lake and affect the level of sediment in the lake…

“This is not a panic situation,” Werner said, adding that Northern Water staff have met daily to assess how the Big Meadows Fire will affect the C-BT system, which is the supplemental water supply to more than 800,000 people on the Front Range.

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