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Colo. wildfires create control debate

  |   June 7, 2012 at 3:34 PM
DENVER, June 7 (UPI) -- A decade-long strategy of prescribed fires and forest-thinning has not reduced risks of catastrophic wildfires along Colorado's Front Range, authorities say.

There is increasing pressure to let more forests burn, if people and structures aren't threatened, because this can help prevent huge fires that ruin forest seed stocks and watersheds, officials said.

"We haven't even begun to see the worst of the worst," Ken Kerr, the Bureau of Land Management's senior officer in the federal command center west of Denver, told The Denver Post.

Enormous, super-hot wildfires flare up more frequently to correct the imbalances caused by disruption of natural fire cycles as human suppression of wildfires since the 1860s has created overly dense forests ready to burn, officials said.

"Until we start finding ways to treat more forests to avoid the catastrophic conflagrations, we're going to have problems," Kerr said. "We can either pay now or we can pay much more later."

Despite the shift toward "treating" forests proactively with prescribed fires and forest thinning, federal data show the number and size of wildfires are growing, the Post reported.

On March 22, a 50-acre prescribed fire southwest of Denver escaped as winds whipped it out of control, creating the 4,140-acre Lower North Fork fire that killed three residents at their homes.

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