Small town, national impact: Snowmass-Wildcat Fire Protection District fire marshal John Mele earns Wildfire Mitigation Award
In March, representatives of four major fire protection and forest service organizations will recognize Snowmass’ John Mele for his commitment to increasing wildfire mitigation awareness and action locally.
Though the flame-shaped glass prize will read “John T. Mele,” the fire marshal insists the award reflects the efforts of “a mile-long list of people.”
Mele said that while he helped “carry the ball” educating people on the importance of wildfire mitigation, “It takes a whole community to really buy into the mitigation concept and realize these things are worth doing.”
“And that’s what Snowmass finally did,” said Mele, a member of the Snowmass-Wildcat Fire Protection District for more than 30 years.
Mele is one of 14 recipients of the Wildfire Mitigation Award, which recognizes individuals and organizations’ leadership and dedication to wildfire mitigation.
The nominees must “play an active role in community wildfire risk reduction and fire adaptation projects on the ground,” said Amanda Cooke, communications director for the National Association of State Foresters.
Others must also be able to provide specific examples of the nominee “leading and implementing” fire mitigation actions in his or her community, Cooke added.
In Mele’s case, the lengthy list of people who nominated the fire marshal includes local officials such as Pitkin County Emergency Manager Valerie MacDonald and Sheriff Joe DiSalvo, Colorado State Forest Service District Forester Kamie Long and Snowmass-Wildcat Fire Protection District Fire Chief Scott Thompson and Deputy Fire Chief Kevin Issel.
Mele was hesitant to share a few of the nomination letters with The Aspen Times upon request, arguing that he “(does) not take compliments readily or easily.”
But, he obliged, so long as “it’s stressed that this is a community award that a lot of people should have their name scratched on.”
In MacDonald’s letter of nomination to the Wildfire Mitigation Awards Committee, the county emergency manager explains that wildfire is “our number one hazard risk” in Pitkin County and describes Mele as “a willing leader” in combatting this.
“His passion inspires people to take action. When asked to help, jurisdictional boundaries do not slow him down,” MacDonald said. “John’s knowledge and enthusiasm for reducing our risk from wildfire are never ending and much appreciated.”
She added that Mele’s efforts “have helped to educate residents and electeds and enabled us to get work done” in Pitkin County.
In Long’s letter of support, the state forester explains why she views Mele as “a leader in his community.”
“(Mele) teamed up with his county emergency manager, federal agencies and state agencies to help educate homeowners and get multiple large projects done in subdivisions that not only reduced their wildfire hazard rating but also beatified the landscape,” Long said.
Mele said that “reading (the letters) meant more to me than the award,” which he hopes enables the Snowmass fire district and community to move forward with its mitigation efforts.
“This isn’t the end goal,” Mele said. “This is a nice award and acknowledgement that I think will help us maintain our pace.”
By honoring these individuals and organizations, the Wildfire Mitigation Award sponsors seek to increase public recognition and awareness of the value of wildfire mitigation.
“More than ever, wildland fire is a serious threat to life and property in the United States,” said John Sinclair, International Association of Fire Chiefs president, in a statement announcing the 2017 award winners.
The award sponsors include The National Association of State Foresters, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the National Fire Protection Association and the USDA Forest Service.
One representative from each group will present the awards at the International Association of Fire Chiefs’ Wildland-Urban Interface Conference in Reno, Nevada, on March 22.
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After this season, the Rifle inmate hand crew will no longer carry out wildfire mitigation projects in Snowmass or the other Roaring Fork Valley communities it regularly works with. The state is set to dissolve it as part of a business reorganization of the Colorado Correctional Industries inmate job skills programs across the state.