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Wildfire mitigation in La Plata County getting push from residents after close calls – Denver, Colorado

Denver, Colorado 2021-06-06 12:18:06 –

By Shannon Malein, Durango Herald via AP

Durango, Colorado (AP) — A second fire, the Valley Fire, broke out in 2002 when the missionary Ridge Fire broke out, with six houses within hours near the Falls Creek Ranch district north of Durango. The house was destroyed.

When the inhabitants returned after the valley fire, they saw red and green ribbons hanging on the trees next to the driveways and houses.

Red learned that firefighters couldn’t protect their homes during the fire. The 22-year-old residents said they couldn’t safely enter because of the overgrown bushes and trees. One Paulette Church recalled a community discussion with fire authorities after the fire.

“When I got home from that day’s meeting, I heard chainsaws everywhere on the ranch,” Church said. “People were reaping the juniper and oak brushes … everyone was looking at what was around the house in a completely different way.”

Close contact with wildfires has prompted several La Plata County communities to take action to mitigate wildfire risk. But helping the community maintain that momentum can be a puzzle. It can take years or even decades to resolve.

Every year in the United States, about 3,500 buildings are burned by wildfires. According to the US Forest Office, reducing the risk of dangerous vegetation near buildings before a fire will help communities adapt to life with a fire.

But not everyone is ready or advanced to save time, effort, or money. Three community mitigation leaders in La Plata County say the combination of know-how, community awareness and persuasion to neighbors helps.

“Changing attitudes is the hardest thing you can do,” said Church, who is nationally recognized for her role in the mitigation efforts of the Falls Creek community.

Over 70,000 communities and 44 million households nationwide are at risk of wildfire at the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), where plant fuels and built environments meet.

This includes communities in La Plata County, such as Durango. On the wildfire risk map, the city is surrounded by a sea of ​​red and orange, showing a higher than average wildfire risk.

According to the Forest Department, there are ways to mitigate that risk, such as community wildfire protection plans, defensive spaces around buildings such as houses and businesses, and carefully selected construction materials and building codes. We have a lot.

Many people want to live in a Wildland environment, so they move to WUI subdivisions such as Falls Creek, Rafter J Association, and Elk Stream Ranch.

Residents value the sight of wildlife inhabiting nearby trees and wandering bushes, and want to preserve the “natural” forest landscape. According to mitigation leaders in some communities, some resist reducing plant life, even when limited to dangerous fuels.

Some communities have ordinances banning logging to protect forests, and assessing risk can discourage people from moving to the area or adversely affect premium rates. I am worried that it may be.

For some inhabitants, getting rid of dangerous plants can be too time consuming and costly. Some people are interested but don’t know what to start with.

“I think many people are worried that logging too many trees will make the forest feel uncomfortable and unhealthy for the forest,” said Charlie, La Plata County Coordinator, Wildfire Adapted.・ Lanzmann says. Partnership is a non-profit organization that connects communities to mitigation resources.

“In fact, fire mitigation is directly beneficial to forests,” says Landsman. “Thanks to historic fire extinguishing activities, the forests are overcrowded.”

Durango Herald, Jerry McBride by Associated Press

On Monday, June 11, 2018, Randy Black (left), Deputy Chief of the Durango Fire Defense District, and Mike Tomborat, a member of the Rocky Mountain Type One Team, were near Durango, Colorado, south of County Road 202. Burnout operation, a technique used to consume fuel from burning wildfires.

morning Call

In La Plata County, 85 community volunteers in the Wildfire Adapted Partnership in 61 communities are called Firewise Ambassadors.

For the three communities interviewed by The Durango Herald, it was the wildfire that ultimately triggered the inhabitants to take action.

About 7 miles southwest of Durango, the Laughter J Association is a small division within the Laughter J Ranch. The 170 homes are built on ridges with views of the valley and the valley, said Rufontana, a 21-year ambassador to the fire department.

In 2017, a Leitner Creek fire burned 412 acres within sight of Fontana’s home.

“For most people on Ridge Road, we knew what was going on there,” Fontana said. “At some point, they issued a pre-evacuation order to Laughter J.”

Prior to the fire, less than 10 people in the Rafter J subdivision were regularly easing the land.

“We’ve attended 90 people so far. That’s good, but it’s still not 100% attended,” says Fontana.

Elk Stream Ranch consists of 35 plots and 15 homes, located in East Canyon on the border between Montezuma and La Plata counties. Residents created a community wildfire protection plan in 2008.

Gertine “Gem” Ganje-Boone, Elk Stream’s fire ambassador since 2012, said, “If the local fire department cannot do it safely, it may not be able to enter our canyon. I remember hearing it. Morning call. Of course, nothing is more compelling than a real fire. “

In 2012, a Weber fire struck the area, burning 10,000 acres of land. Then, in 2020, there was a 2,905 acre East Canyon fire.

“I think everyone who owns a house is somehow involved in fire mitigation,” said Ganje Boon. “It’s much harder to convince vacant lot owners to participate in fire mitigation, but we’re successful in about half of the plot.”

In Durango, only after a 416 fire burned 52,778 acres in 2018, how many city and La Plata county leaders can leverage regional, state and federal partnerships to address the risk of wildfires in the region. We have started a collaborative effort.

“There is an incredible amount of work done at almost every level, from homeowners to city, county, state and federal levels,” says Landsman. “One of the main limiting factors is that we always have more work to do, and we have limited capacity, people, time, and energy to work on earth.”

Since 2002, Falls Creek residents have volunteered for thousands of hours to reduce the risk of fires on land and roads. In 2018, that work helped firefighters redirect the 416 Fire. Nearly 20 years later, about 80% of Falls Creek’s 96 households remove vegetation from co-owned land each year, and about 90% of landowners reduce their property.

That’s a high percentage, but there are still “holdouts” that we don’t want to mitigate, Church said.

“There are only a few,” Church said. “And they have done more than we ever did.”

In this photo, courtesy by Jerry ...

Jerry Day via AP

On June 8, 2018, an aircraft dropped a flame retardant on a wildfire in a hill or forest near Durango, Colorado. A fire in southwestern Colorado has forced hundreds of people to evacuate.

Find a solution

Neighboring mitigation leaders have been successful in combining community-building events, ongoing outreach, financial support, and results.

At a community meeting, Rafter J convened firefighting experts from the Durango Fire Defense District, Land Management Department, Forestry Department, and Wildfire Adapted Partnerships. Their first step is to draft a preparatory assessment of the community, Fontana said.

They focused on improving the road and then removed the ignition zone around the house. According to Fontana, they used the grant to pay for mitigation projects such as logging and scraping of scrub oak, but with more participation than expected, they exceeded the budget.

“I want you to codify that no community in southwestern Colorado can sell real estate without proper mitigation measures,” he said. “We need septic tanks, we need mitigation. Do it. “

At Elk Stream Ranch, ambassadors speak at annual meetings and distribute documents to keep the community informed. The association is using a cost-sharing program to build fuel rest areas along the road and is seeking subsidies to continue the project, Ganje Boone said.

Regarding community consensus building, Ganje Boon said wildfires are focusing on the idea of ​​”when” rather than “if.”

“It’s important to be better prepared to protect lives and property,” she said. “Talking to our neighbors and volunteering to help our community has helped our community.”

Wildfire mitigation in La Plata County getting push from residents after close calls Source link Wildfire mitigation in La Plata County getting push from residents after close calls

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