Cheatgrass increases fire risk
There is an increased risk for wildfires in northeast Colorado this summer and fall. Cheatgrass, a weedy introduced annual plant, has capitalized on spring moisture while perennial grasses have been much slower to recover following the drought affects from 2012. Visual surveys across rangelands and roadsides this year show that cheatgrass is approximately two times more abundant in 2013, especially in northeast Colorado. Now that cheatgrass has reached reproductive maturity and has completed its annual life cycle, the litter left behind is dry and very flammable. In addition, growth of warm season broadleaf weeds and grasses among and around cheatgrass plants has begun to peak, which creates high fire fuel loads and an increased risk for the spread of fire when ignited.
Ranchers, farmers, and homeowners should take precautions:
Keep vehicles on maintained roadways and off of cheatgrass.
Adhere to all local fire restrictions and bans.
Take precautions during hay-baling and grain harvesting operations to prevent ignition of dry fuels.
Dispose of cigarette butts and matches properly.
Use and maintain approved spark arresters on all power equipment.
Reduce cheatgrass fuels by mowing to six inches or less in height.
Clear cheatgrass within a 30 foot perimeter of buildings, equipment, and other structures.
Avoid rocks and metal when mowing cheatgrass, since sparks generated could start wildfires.
Avoid welding on cheatgrass sites. If welding, clear the area of fuels and monitor sparks when using welding equipment. Have a fire extinguisher available.
Instruct children to never play with fire or fireworks.
Simply mowing cheatgrass will not eliminate the problem, since cheatgrass is likely to return the following year. For more information on cheatgrass, the fire hazard cheatgrass may pose, and the precautions that can be taken to reduce the risk of fire, visit the following link for CSU Extension fact sheet No. 6.310: http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/natres/06310.html.