Fire officials want to help you protect your home from the next wildfire
In a state with the third most households at high or extreme risk from wildfires, homeowners, especially rural homeowners, must be proactive and take protecting their home into their own hands.
“We want communities of western Colorado to be fire adaptive,” said Lathan Johnson, supervisory fuels management specialist with Upper Colorado River Fire Management Unit. “Homeowners in rural communities should take responsibility to fireproof their property.”
Johnson listed several simple ways homeowners can better protect their home to prevent the spread of wildfire, including trimming vegetation on their property.
“Homeowners should be sure to pick up any dry grass, dead leaves and clean out their gutters,” he said.
UCR fire mitigation and training officer Doug Paul stressed how important it is for homeowners to create defensible space on their property, which begins and ends with vegetation around the home.
“Creating defensible space has two parts: the home itself and the ignitability around it,” he said. “We work to remove enough fuels from around the home so that it can survive a fire on its own.”
He said that with cooperation from homeowners, fire crews will visit a home and assess its ability to survive a wildfire.
Over the past 18 months, Colorado River Fire Rescue Fire Marshal Orrin Moon has been working with New Castle homeowners to make the community safer, doing home assessments and eventually removing all the dead fuels in the area to prevent the potential spread of wildfire.
“It’s not a question of if there will be a wildfire, but when,” he said.
Homeowners in the Elk Run subdivision have been working with Moon and others to ensure that the woods around their home and neighborhood would not spread a wildfire so easily.
“We got with homeowners 18 months ago, obtained grant money and came up with a mitigation plan,” he said of the Elk Run fuels mitigation work. “We presented the plan to homeowners, and they were eager to contribute in terms of cost.”
He and other firefighters would assess each home and property and gave it a rating for its risk of wildfire.
Homes were scored depending on whether there was a clear means of access for firefighters, how heavy the vegetation in the area was and what type of material the building was constructed from. The more points the home received on the assessment, the worse its rating.
He said that most homes were in the range of high risk to extremely high risk from wildfires.
As part of the assessment fire crews identified three problem areas, and beginning in November 2016, the work began trimming trees, preventing trees from clumping and avoiding “ladder fuels” that allow fire to rise, among other steps.
Fire intensifies as it goes uphill, so if a fire starts at the bottom of a mountain and catches fuel on the way up, the whole mountain may be in flames before long. While firefighters can’t prevent wildfires altogether, they can look to prevent this chimney effect so that no matter the slope of the hill the fires starts on, its spread can be avoided.
“If there is a wildfire up this way, we are going to assess the homes and protect the ones that we can protect,” he explained. “We want to protect the homes that are savable. We have limited manpower and don’t want to waste time trying to save homes that ultimately can’t be saved.”
Tony May, property owner in the subdivision and president of the Elk Run homeowners association, has been working with Moon to identify problem areas and did a lot of the fuels mitigation around his home on his own.
Moon said May’s home scored well on the assessment because all the vegetation around his home was green, he eliminated all ignition areas on his property and around his home, and no dead fuels can be seen around the home.
Moon and May continue to work together to see the Elk Run subdivision better protected from wildfire, which in turn has lowered homeowners insurance.
“What made all of this come together was county grant money and cooperation from homeowners,” Moon said. “We are looking for more grant money for mitigation, but we want to work on places with the biggest hazards.”
Elk Run and neighboring Elk Creek are two subdivisions that have been a priority for the Colorado River Fire Rescue and county for years, according to Moon. While the Elk Run mitigation is nearly finished, crews will be working on the Elk Creek Subdivision this winter.
Homeowners looking for more information on how to fireproof their home should visit http://www.firewise.org. Moon also suggested homeowners to contact Market Forestry at 719-260-4725, which does fire mitigation in the area.
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Cam Daniel is a former youth addiction counselor who’s been a Pitkin County sheriff’s deputy for three years.