Wildfire Worries Dominate Discussion of Rocky Flats Refuge

By JOHN AGUILAR, The Denver Put up

DENVER (AP) — December’s Marshall hearth spared the Rocky Flats Nationwide Wildlife Refuge, an expanse of grasslands between Superior and Arvada that, had winds shifted, may have offered 6,200 acres of further drought-stricken gas to the damaging blaze.

What if a fireplace just like the one which burned down greater than 1,000 houses in Boulder County on Dec. 30 had turned all of the sudden south and raced throughout the refuge, the place for 40 years triggers for nuclear warheads had been assembled as a part of the nation’s Chilly Warfare standoff with the Soviet Union?

That was the subject of debate Feb. 7 at a Rocky Flats Stewardship Council assembly, the place elected officers from communities surrounding the refuge got here collectively to speak in regards to the potential hazards — together with the discharge of lethal plutonium from the soil into the air — that would come up from an occasion just like the Marshall hearth on refuge land.

“Rocky (Flats) has burned earlier than, Rocky will burn once more sooner or later,” the council’s government director, Dave Abelson, mentioned. “These are simply details. You may’t cease wildfire, as everyone knows.”

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In actual fact, the refuge has skilled a dozen fires since 2000, based on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, ranging in dimension from lower than an acre in 2020 to 852 acres in 2006.

“Fireplace is just not unusual,” mentioned Dave Lucas, refuge supervisor for Rocky Flats. “We principally have one wildfire yearly. That could be a actuality.”

For many who consider the Rocky Flats Nationwide Wildlife Refuge, which opened to the general public in 2018, isn’t secure on account of residual contamination from Chilly Warfare bomb-making exercise, the Marshall hearth was a jolting wake-up name that extra must be executed on the website to guard individuals within the face of a pure catastrophe.

“That is actually inappropriate to have individuals on the positioning,” long-time Rocky Flats activist Lynn Segal mentioned in the course of the assembly Monday. “I imply this got here shut.”

However Andy Keim, website supervisor for Rocky Flats with the U.S. Division of Power, mentioned wildfire hazard modeling accomplished when the nuclear weapons plant was razed and cleaned up greater than a decade in the past exhibits no use for concern.

Keim’s company oversees the 1,300-acre “central operable unit” on the refuge, the place the plant was positioned and which stays a Superfund website that’s off-limits to the general public.

“The remaining infrastructure — buildings, slabs and basements — and subsurface soils with residual radiological contamination are buried beneath at the very least 3 toes of unpolluted soil,” Keim instructed the stewardship council. “And a wildfire poses no actual potential menace to those buried supplies as a result of the soil acts as a bodily barrier separating materials from the bottom floor the place the fireplace is, plus limiting warmth switch.”

In contrast to forest fires, he mentioned grassland fires “sometimes transfer shortly and burn cool.” A threat evaluation executed on hearth hazard at Rocky Flats concluded that “residual floor soil contamination didn’t pose a big threat,” he mentioned.

“And likewise, modeled firefighter exposures to smoke indicated that radiological hazards of a grassfire at Rocky Flats are negligible,” Keim mentioned.

However Giselle Herzfeld with the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Heart in Boulder mentioned there may be each purpose to fret about hearth on the refuge.

“If there have been a fireplace at Rocky Flats, it is vitally possible that the radioactive contamination would turn out to be airborne and put these residing close by and downwind liable to inhaling airborne plutonium particles and different radionuclides,” she mentioned. “This threat is heightened by significantly excessive winds on the website.”

She famous that winds on the day of the Marshall hearth reached speeds of 115 mph at Rocky Flats.

“If a plutonium particle is inhaled, that particle is more likely to stay in an individual’s lungs completely,” Herzfeld mentioned. “In that point it would continuously bombard surrounding cells with radiation, placing that particular person liable to creating a lung tumor.”

Rocky Flats generated headlines in 2019 when an elevated pattern of plutonium was discovered on refuge property close to Indiana Road. However to this point that pattern has confirmed to be an outlier, with dozens of different soil samples taken on the refuge displaying plutonium ranges effectively inside government-defined acceptable threat thresholds for the substance.

However Boulder County Commissioner Claire Levy strongly urged refuge officers to conduct air monitoring after a fireplace to make sure that no contaminants had been launched into the air.

“Fashions are fashions — generally real-life circumstances present in any other case,” she mentioned. “After a fireplace, what could be executed to not simply guarantee the general public however truly decide whether or not the air and ash are secure?”

Arvada Metropolis Councilman Randy Moorman expressed related issues.

“Each hearth is completely different and so I really feel like monitoring a number of fires up to now isn’t going to inform us what future fires are going to do and what that’s going to be like,” he mentioned. “I feel particularly from the general public curiosity perspective we actually have to have monitoring occurring after each hearth as a result of that’s the best concern — what is going on in our air after that fireplace?”

Fireplace has been contentious earlier than at Rocky Flats. In 2015, public outcry over a proposed prescribed burn at Rocky Flats — and issues about air contamination — led to it being scrapped. Lucas mentioned there hasn’t been a prescribed burn on the website since 2000 and “none are deliberate.”

Lucas mentioned the refuge is serviced by a number of hearth safety districts and departments, together with Mountain View, Coal Creek and Arvada Fireplace. However a few instant measures could be taken in response to the Marshall hearth.

Fish and Wildlife personnel will bump up mowing the southern boundary of Rocky Flats, the place the refuge abuts tons of of homes in Arvada’s Candelas neighborhood, to twice a 12 months from as soon as yearly. The buffer could be about 40 toes large, Lucas mentioned.

And the company would stage one in every of its Kind 6 wildland hearth engines, referred to as a brush truck, 12 months spherical at Rocky Flats quite than simply throughout summer time months.

“This space has modified — you’ve got 684 houses that line the southern boundary that didn’t exist a handful of years in the past, so planning has modified,” Lucas mentioned.

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