A federal forester flicked a Bic, igniting a first bone-dry pile of culled young pines — testing conditions for the looming task of torching 180,000 similar piles across Colorado.

The continued construction of houses in burn zones is forcing this effort to thin overly dense forests and reduce the risk of super-intense wildfires.

For years, federal forest managers have targeted young trees in areas near homes to try to prevent the sort of devastating wildfires that exploded across thousands of acres in Colorado last year, killing six people and destroying hundreds of homes.

Ecologists question the strategy of manually thinning by targeting young trees, warning that this could kill the capacity of forests to regenerate.

But the most immediate challenge for fuel technicians Matt Champa and Joe Parr, and their counterparts statewide, is getting the already-cut piles burned.

From The Denver Post: http://www.denverpost.com/recommended/ci_22331078