Snowmass wildfire mitigation effort begins |

Snowmass wildfire mitigation effort begins

Juniper Valley Crew members comb a hillside on Brush Creek Road on Oct. 30. The men left brush growing in clumps, a process that retains the natural beauty of an area as well as its soil stability but breaks up the continuity of dry fuels.
John Mele/Courtesy photo |

A long-envisioned goal of providing Snowmass Village homes more protection from the risk of wildfire is finally making progress.

Last week, a crew from the State Wildland Inmate Fire Team cleared brush on a hillside on Brush Creek Road, and this week — weather permitting — it will remove dry fuel sources from the Melton I subdivision.

The crews were performing a task called clumping, which, according to Pitkin County Wildfire Mitigation Specialist Darryl Grob, breaks up the continuity of dry fuel sources, helping prevent fire from spreading as rapidly and providing better access for firefighters.

Not only that, but clumping as opposed to completely clearing a landscape retains its visual beauty, Grob said. It also retains the stability of the soil, added Rick Griffin, president of the Snowmass Homeowners Association, who has led an effort to decrease wildfire risk in the associations’ neighborhoods with Grob and Fire Marshal John Mele.

Because the project started along Brush Creek Road, it was highly visible, which was educational for the crew and for passers-by, Grob said. Several residents stopped to ask questions and see if the workers could come to their homes.

“The (homeowners’ association) is doing the common areas, but it’s a good idea for individual homeowners to learn from this,” Griffin said. “People have to now start looking at their individual lots. There’s some work to be done.”

The Snowmass Wildcat Fire Protection District offers free assessments to homeowners in its jurisdiction, helping residents understand what issues exist on their properties. It performed 35 assessments this summer, although Mele thinks only a few of those homeowners actually performed mitigation work.

That’s partially because of the timing, he said, because the best time to do mitigation is in the spring and fall. However, it’s also very costly to hire a team to perform the work, and it’s a process that isn’t a one-time task. It has to be maintained, said Griffin, who hired a crew to work on his lot this summer.

“This is a long-term commitment,” he said.

Grob is currently spearheading an effort to organize a Roaring Fork Valley Wildfire Council, which will give the valley more teeth when applying for grants that can support things such as free chipping for residents who need to discard dry fuel from their properties. The men also hope to receive some grant money next year for the Snowmass Homeowners’ Association project, and Grob hopes to perform similar work in other parts of the county.

“Wildfire is a part of nature’s cycle,” Grob said. “If you’re not going to allow wildfire, you need to be prepared to mimic wildfire.”

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