Looking Ahead of the Lightner Creek Fire

In a tweet on Monday, @LaPlataCountyCO stated that the “Next step in #lightnercreekfire is to plan for rehabilitation…” perhaps marking the positive shift towards recovering after the 412-acre wildfire, west of Durango, reached near-complete containment.

The fire hasn’t been declared entirely controlled at this time because it’s important to make sure the entire burn site is cold, Connie Clementson, BLM field manager, said. Local fire crews and rehab crews will spend the next couple of weeks monitoring the area to make sure all embers are cold.

In addition to making sure the fire is cold, crews will begin seeding grasses in areas damaged by response equipment and firefighting techniques.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Bureau of Land Management coordinated with Southwest Seed Inc. to create a seed mix as part of early rehabilitation efforts, Robby Henes, vice president of Southwest Seed Inc., said during a phone interview.

“These are just grasses, which in the scheme of the plant world grow the quickest so you start getting that erosion control and that stabilization,” Henes said.

Made up of native, non-invasive grass species selected by the government agencies, this seed mix was likely devised to help revegetate areas damaged by fire response activities, in preparation for the Southwest’s oncoming monsoon season.

“Typically, in fires, they look at what they would consider critical areas,” Henes said. “So that would be watershed areas where they need to get something started as soon as possible to avoid erosion or corruptions of existing water sources and where water runs off, and then other areas that have been downgraded or hurt more than others.”

The heavy equipment used to combat wildfires can tear up the soil and damage or destroy vegetation that normally helps stabilize and keep the soil in place, Henes said.

Clementson confirmed that these areas are a high priority for revegetation efforts. While fire crews work to prevent erosion before leaving, laying down seed helps to reclaim the soil faster.

As firefighting resources, such as response helicopters, are diverted to active fires elsewhere, efforts to monitor and rehabilitate will be handed off to local jurisdictions.

As for the actual burn area, much of the terrain is steep, hard to access and dominated by scrub oak, which rebounds quickly after fires. People will start to see these shrubby plants come back in the burn area with the oncoming monsoon season.

Rehab crews will be assessing needs over the next couple of weeks, at which time opportunities for rehabilitation opportunities for community volunteers may become available.

In the meantime, Clementson asked that the community help monitor sedimentation in water sources as a result of erosion and learn from the difficulties caused by recent illegal drone flights.

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