Aspen hires former fire chief to head wildfire program | AspenTimes.com

Aspen hires former fire chief to head wildfire program

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

ASPEN – The city of Aspen has hired former Aspen Fire Chief Darryl Grob to head this summer’s Wildfire Mitigation Program.

Grob, along with city and Pitkin County officials, stood near the Water Place affordable housing development near Castle Creek Road to show how trees, bushes and tall grass have grown rapidly over the years and sit too close to houses, representing a fire danger. Through the program, a team led by Grob will educate homeowners on how to minimize the fire risk to homes and property.

Starting Friday, the program will offer free assessments for properties identified as being in high-risk areas. Assessors will visit homeowners on short notice and compile a list of measures they can take to immediately reduce risks to their property. If mitigation work is necessary, homeowners could be eligible for a state cost-sharing program to reduce the cost of the work.

In addition, if homeowners need to cut or trim trees and bushes, the city will chip them for free and leave the material on site or haul it away. Tree-removal permits from the city will be expedited and issued for free if such work is required.

Grob said the city recruited him for the job, which will run though the summer. The city will use leftover Police Department budget funding to pay for the program and Grob’s salary, said City Manager Steve Barwick.

“Despite the fact that I do have some other occupying thoughts going on right now, I took this responsibility because it’s the right thing to do for our community under the circumstances,” said Grob, who is running for the District 4 seat on the Board of County Commissioners. “I take this very seriously indeed.”

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The threat of wildfire this summer is extremely high due to low precipitation so far this year. Mitzi Rapkin, the city’s spokeswoman, said local officials are taking steps to cut down on the chance of a wildfire reaching the city limits. The primary goal is to reduce fuels in areas that are close to wildlands, she said.

The city has prioritized certain areas as high risk: the Smuggler Mountain area northeast of the Roaring Fork River, the Ute Avenue neighborhoods, the Marolt area and the Castle Creek to Maroon Creek area from the roundabout on Highway 82 to the Aspen Music Festival and School.

“The homes have been identified because they lay in the path of projected fire patterns or they are surrounded by high fuel loads,” Grob said.

Grob said the Water Place development was chosen for Thursday’s press gathering and discussion because 10 years ago, during the last severe drought, the city embarked on an aggressive fuels-mitigation program in the area. A steep slope near the houses, combined with the dry trees and grasses that have quickly grown back, represent a potential danger in which flames could reach as high as 150 feet, he said.

“This is a classic example of a situation that would promote that kind of activity,” Grob said. “Take volatile fuels, uphill, driven by convection of a fire, the possibility of a wind event adding to the whole mess, and the flames that you could see here could be 100 or 150 feet high in almost no time at all.”

For more information or to schedule an assessment, call 920-5199 or visit http://www.aspenpitkin.com.

asalvail@aspentimes.com

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