RFOV helps bolster wildfire safety with reseeding project at Basalt Range

Burnt trees surround the Basalt Range on Thursday, May 28, 2020. The Christine Lake Fire started at the range on July 3, 2018. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times).
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

The effort to save Basalt Shooting Range was bolstered over the weekend when volunteers re-seeded an old road which was re-worked to provide a fire break.

Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers had 40 people signed up to help establish the firebreak for about half a mile of the old road, said Jacob Baker, director of communications and outreach for RFOV. The project is part of RFOV’s ongoing efforts to help repair damage from the Lake Christine fire beginning in July 2018 and make the area less prone to wildfires.

The Lake Christine fire broke out at the range when two shooters broke the rules and used incendiary ammunition. The fire ignited in the dry vegetation behind the firing range and exploded out of control. The fire burned approximately 12,500 acres and threatened Basalt, El Jebel, and the east side of Missouri Heights in the days that followed. Three houses were destroyed and thousands of people were evacuated.

After the fire, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the owner and operator of the range, and the City of Basalt appointed a citizens’ panel to review fire prevention and other issues at the range. Several mitigation measures were recommended by Roaring Fork Fire Chief Scott Thompson.

“That was one of our green space suggestions around the chain,” Thompson said Friday. “A green space only works if it is irrigated and lush and retains moisture.”

Irrigated pastures uphill from the range in the Basalt State Wildlife Sanctuary temporarily slowed the spread of the fire, he noted.

CPW has made improvements to mitigate fire hazards on the range in recent years. He brought a bulldozer and excavator to the site in April 2021 to widen and clear an old road that was used decades ago to lay power lines. The road is sloping from the ranges of pistols, rifles and shotguns.

CPW aimed to harness the water supply or Basalt springs on the lower slopes of Basalt Mountain to irrigate the cut road after it was reseeded.

Baker said he understood that no water source could be secured, so CPW installed a 5,000 gallon water tank at the site. A contractor will regularly transport water to the site. Thompson said the reservoir is hooked up to a gravity-fed system to irrigate the cut road once it is reseeded.

Thompson previously said the widened, cleared road will also provide access so firefighters can drive equipment to higher slopes rather than hiking. Once vegetation begins to grow, it will protect a visible road scar across the middle valley, he said.

Baker said volunteers should also work to reclaim social trails created in the Basalt State Wildlife Refuge near the range.

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