Friday, March 4, 2011

Fourmile fire burn zone- Defensible space and Ecological Restoration

While beautifying peoples homes is fun and satisfying, there is something especially interesting about the challenge of re-vegetating 13 acres that have been ravaged by a wildfire. This was the task set upon us this fall after the 2010 Fourmile Fire west of Boulder, CO.

It did not matter how much we had heard on the news or how many photos we had seen on Facebook, when going up to the burn zone via Sunshine Canyon Drive we were struck by the gravity of the fire all over again. The blackness spanned over rolling hills that are usually a deep green from all of the pines. The air was filled with ash even weeks after the fire had been extinguished. The smell was inundating. It was striking to see how houses not 100 feet from a completely intact home, were burned down to a foundation and a few charred remains of kitchen appliances.

The home we are working on was spared but smoke damage meant that the house had to be gutted and remodeled from inside. As with many of the homes in this area, it was built on a steep slope and surrounded by evergreen trees, nearly all of which went up like torches. Void of its stabilizing vegetation, these steep slopes are now left in a vulnerable position for when spring rains come. Our task was to design defensible space around the house so that a future fire would have less impact on the house as well as revegetate the remaining property.

In addition to being exciting the inspiring, this job also comes with incredible challenges:

-Plants: The potential plant palette shrunk with each condition: grows in Colorado, drought resistant, grows over 9000’ and fire resistant. Add the clients likes and dislikes and we have about 22 plants to work with... and by “about 22” I mean “literally 22”.

-Soil: Additionally the “soil” on site mostly consists of crushed granite. At this altitude, with this much wind and with the rock so close to the surface, top soil has very little to cling to. Add to that the fact that in some spots this fire burned the soil to a 2' depth and this further limits where and what can be planted.

Although we have spent this winter inside drawing the plans for this project while our contractor, Rob Phillips of Mountain Man Irrigation has been taking burned trees down, rebuilding walls and preparing the site for construction, life has been starting without us. Many of the plants that were only flash burned have already shown signs of new growth. The dry and windy winter also managed to blow away a large amount of the soot and ash that was covering the soil. It is exciting to imagine what life we can coax out of the site with some careful planting and irrigation. Stay tuned to see our progress.

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