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City of Aspen to explore fire mitigation options

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times

Despite periodic bouts of afternoon rain this month, the Aspen area remains in a moderate drought with a potential for wildland fires.

In the upper Roaring Fork Valley, only a few small brush fires have required emergency attention so far this year. Statewide, the vast majority of fires that raged across the state in June and early this month have been extinguished thanks to fire-fighting efforts and statewide precipitation.

But officials aren’t letting their guard down. With a long-term view in mind, city of Aspen officials plan to explore options this week for dealing with potential wildfires or stopping them in their tracks.

“Colorado’s increasing problems with wildfire are well-known,” wrote city utilities project coordinator Will Dolan in a memorandum to the City Council. “The issue is drawing additional attention at all levels of government in Colorado due to the severity of fires and the extreme levels of damage, including loss of life.”

According to Dolan, city officials have teamed up with the Aspen Valley Fire Protection District, the U.S. Forest Service and Holy Cross Electric to analyze the situation and recommend improvements. Of particular concern are the areas around town, near neighborhoods, where overgrown brush could act as a prime fuel for wildfires.

Dolan plans to discuss potential wildfire-mitigation options with Dolan during a work session Tuesday. The meeting begins at 4 p.m. in the basement of Aspen City Hall at 130 S. Galena St.

City staffers will seek the council’s blessing on four points of action. The price tag for the continuing mitigation efforts for the remainder of the year is an estimated $132,000.

The options — council members could OK all, some or none of them — include:

• Construction of evacuation routes through Aspen Grove Cemetery.

• Community outreach and fuel clearing, primarily in the Knollwood subdivision, including the Eastwood Road area, on Aspen’s east side.

• Approving utilities easements on Red Mountain, along existing easements for water and electrical lines, to create fuel breaks.

“These fuel breaks can slow the spread of wildfires and provide firefighters (with) improved staging and access, as well as even stop the fires altogether,” Dolan’s memo stated.

• Installing emergency backup generators at most of the city’s water-pump stations to ensure that water continues to flow to hydrants and taps in the event of a power outage.

“If council does not approve this use of city funds for the purposes of wildfire mitigation, the community will likely be less prepared — and suffer more loss and damage in a wildfire event — than if the full scope of projects and programs were enacted,” Dolan said.

However, he added, “Council could choose to authorize only those programs and projects they deem most effective.”


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