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Are you prepared for the next big wildfire?

By Tate Drane, David McRee, Jerimiah Miller, Mathew Huck, and BaiLee Gallegos
Special to The SUN

During the summer of 2013, the Black Forest Fire, which burned nearly 500 homes near Colorado Springs, occurred in a landscape extremely similar to much of Archuleta County; homes that burned were surrounded by overly dense stands of ponderosa pine. Sound familiar?

In December, Global Science students from Pagosa Springs High School presented three suggestions to the county commissioners with the goal of increasing wildfire awareness and wildfire preparedness in Archuleta County. The first and easiest suggestion, which was fully supported by the commissioners, was to add wildfire resources to the county website. The Global Science students are proud to announce that the wildfire resource links are now live on the county website and the timing couldn’t be any better considering low elevation snowpack has already melted.

The goal of Global Science students is to make it easier for property owners to determine their fire risk and then to take personal responsibility in reducing that risk. The following fire resources can be found by clicking the “Wildland Fire Information and Resources” link on the county homepage, www.archuletacounty.org.

Do you know the wildfire risk of your subdivision? 

Archuleta County has provided residents with a map developed in 2006 that ranks all subdivisions from lowest to highest in Archuleta County based upon wildfire risk (http://assessorrecords.archuletacounty.org/subranking_11x17.pdf).

Do you know how to find the wildfire risk of your property? 

Despite the Little Sand and West Fork Complex fires, many county residents may not know what their wildfire risk is or how to find it. Fortunately, the state of Colorado and Archuleta County have wildfire resources that county residents can easily access. The Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) has developed mapping software called CO-WRAP that identifies the wildfire rating for any property down to a 90-meter resolution (http://www.coloradowildfirerisk.com/map). For now, there are limitations in the technology. To get the most accurate wildfire rating, have a professional inspect your property on the ground.

According to the CSFS, defensible space is “the area around a home or other structure that has been modified to reduce fire hazard.”

Last summer, 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots risked and lost their lives while protecting homes in Arizona. In light of this tragedy, firefighters may be less likely to risk their lives to save homes — especially ones that have poor defensible space.

Many residents are unaware that you can get a free defensible space evaluation. A way to get your property inspected for defensible space is listed on the county website. There is also a list of defensible space contractors on the county website. If you are a defensible space contractor and your information is not on this website, contact the CSFS Durango District Office at 247-5250.

As mitigation of property becomes more popular and essential, we will produce an excess amount of woody material, made up of tree limbs and branches, that is collectively known as slash. It is imperative to properly dispose of slash to reduce the fuels and fire risk of your property. Fortunately, our county has a plan for the slash that we produce. There will be three slash disposal locations for county residents: the transfer station, Arboles and a site for PLPOA residents. Watch for more details such as hours of operation in a future article.

Did you know wildfire mitigation can reduce your taxable income? 

Many homeowners choose not to mitigate because of the cost. Fifty percent of any qualifying out-of-pocket fire mitigation expenses can be deducted from your Colorado income tax. There is a $2,500 limit and tax deduction is available until 2024 (http://www.colorado.gov/cms/forms/dor-tax/Income65.pdf).

Based upon recent wildfires that occurred along Colorado’s Front Range, many people wound up losing their homes and didn’t have adequate insurance to help them recover. With this in mind, it could be that many homeowners in Archuleta County may not have proper wildfire insurance. Boulder County has created an informative video about properly insuring your house against wildfires (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmntizltsbg&lr=1&user=bouldercounty). Is your home properly insured against wildfires?

Most houses lost during wildfires are not touched by the actual flame, but by wind-blown embers. The embers can travel far ahead of the fire and can land in spots where they could ignite your home. The following videos will help you become ember aware: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jjmvtc2mdaq and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofggfexitxg.

Fire ban and
emergency updates

This summer when a wildfire threatens our homes, daily updates about fires and other county emergencies can be found at this website: http://www.acemergency.org/p/wildland-fire_30.html.

During summer months, everyone wants to get outdoors and camp; s’mores are always an inviting aspect of camping, but you can’t have s’mores without a campfire, and you can’t have a campfire during a fire ban. To find information about fire bans and danger, take a look at the following website: http://www.fs.usda.gov/sanjuan. For a more specific fire ban within the county, visit this website: http://www.coemergency.com/p/fire-bans-danger.html.

Since we live in an area that is inevitably prone to wildfires, we need to be aware that wildfires are going to happen no matter what and we need to prepare for them to reduce loss of property values and, more importantly, the loss of human lives. Knowledge of fire mitigation gained from the new links available on the county website will hopefully inspire, and make it easier for, county residents to take personal responsibility to reduce the fire risk of their property. Fire mitigation will not only reduce your fire risk, but it could also save you money and protect our forests from the current bark beetle epidemic.

This story was posted on April 3, 2014.