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Wildfire Fears Reignited in Beetle-killed Forests

Photo by Kirk Siegler
Spring wildfires like the Indian Gulch blaze near Golden have officials worried for the months ahead

Large wildfires already burning in Colorado this spring are renewing concerns about fire risks in mountain towns in and around forests decimated by the mountain pine beetle.  To that end, Governor Hickenlooper is scheduled to tour some wildfire mitigation projects in Summit County Wednesday morning.

Unlike the Front Range, much of the central mountains have enjoyed record snowfall.  But fire officials say that moisture can lead to a build-up of underbrush that can quickly dry out. 

"If it starts drying out in the later part of the summer, watch out, that’s when it gets really scary," said Summit County Commissioner Dan Gibbs, who is also a wildland firefighter. 

The former state lawmaker is also worried about the current budget impasse in Washington, and what that will mean for federal agencies such as the Forest Service that often take the lead in forest firefighting efforts.

Gibbs and other local officials plan to stress the importance of cooperation between federal, state and local agencies when it comes to getting fire mitigation projects past the planning phase.  In places like Grand and Summit counties, the need is great.

"We've barely scratched the surface," said Deputy Chief Jeff Berino with Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue. 

But Berino applauds the governor's visit and he says he's eager to  show two recently completed wildfire fire mitigation projects; including one in an area that supplies water to the Front Range.

Kirk Siegler reports for NPR, based out of NPR West in California.