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Potential for Blazes on Fort Carson Results from Live-firing Training

Fort Carson
Fort Carson

In Colorado Springs, a combination of desert-like conditions and a predominately military population mean increased potential for blazes.

The city isn't likely to suddenly experience higher precipitation and soldiers aren't likely to stop live-firing training on military installations, like Fort Carson.

Despite several fires reported on Fort Carson this year, which collectively burned over 2,000 acres of training land, none have threatened life or property, according to Garrison Commander Col. Joel Hamilton.

"They've all been under control and closely monitored," Hamilton said.

Most fires burn five acres or less before they're knocked down, and the community doesn't even know they happen, according to Fort Carson Fire Chief Glen Silloway. The department runs between 100 and 120 fire calls a year, most of which don't rise to the level of community attention, he said. But some fires in the past three months have. All of them sparked by live-firing training:

- On Jan. 19, a small fire took two hours to knock down on a training range.

- On Jan. 29, crews responded to a fire in a small impact area on Fort Carson's south side.

- Feb. 20, a range fire scorched 1,200 acres near the Turkey Creek Recreation area.

- March 4, flames tore through 550 acres of training lands.

Those numbers are relatively low considering the consistent training happening on the campus, Hamilton said. That's mainly a result of careful weather considerations that go into deciding when soldiers can train and what type of munitions they can use.

Just as the rest of the community is advised against open burning, grilling and even tossing a cigarette during National Weather Service-issued red flag warnings, Fort Carson is under the same restraints, Hamilton said. Pyrotechnics are the first to go during those periods of heightened awareness.

"It does shut down certain training," Silloway said.

Still, a live-fire operation involving the Marine Corps Feb. 20 came a day after Colorado Springs was dropped from Red Flag alert during one of the area's hottest, driest, windiest weeks on record. It burned 1,200 acres.

Hamilton characterized it as an unfortunate side effect of Fort Carson's obligation to provide its soldiers with realistic training as they prepare to be shipped off to combat zones overseas.

Of Fort Carson's 136,000 acres, 120,000 of them are designated for training. That doesn't include lands at Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site, Hamilton said.

Still, it's a balancing act, Hamilton said, to make sure they are good stewards of the land while "ensuring we have a very well-trained army." Fort Carson soldiers are currently deployed on about five continents, nine countries and three U.S. states, he said.

"Realistic training saves lives, because soldiers experience those realistic conditions before they get to a combat zone where they're in harm's way," Hamilton said.

Efforts are in place to mitigate fire danger. In addition to limiting training during certain weather patterns, the fire department also conducts prescribed burns to rid training areas of the fuels that could feed flames should they occur.

The fire department typically conducts controlled burns across 18-20,000 acres on Fort Carson, Silloway said. Three such prescribed burns were scheduled for the first couple weeks of March, but were canceled due to weather conditions. They have yet to be rescheduled, Silloway said.

Residents are encouraged to call authorities if they see smoke or have concerns. For Fort Carson fires, residents can call 719-526-9848 or the after-hours line at 719-526-5500. Residents can also report concerns online at www.carson.army.mil. Under the useful links section, click "Noise and Environmental Concerns" and use the email link to contact authorities.

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