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FireWise makes great strides in 2012

By Bill Trimarco
Special to The SUN

FireWise of Southwest Colorado was formed in 2003 in response to the devastating fires of 2002 in our area. It is a non-profit group whose goal is to protect lives and property from wildfire.

As the organization enters its second decade, this is a good time to look back on the accomplishments of the past year.

The cornerstone of this organization is the neighborhood Ambassador program. FireWise Ambassadors are local volunteers who utilize an approach of education, planning and implementation to manage the risk of wildfire in their communities and neighborhoods. Last year, 58 new Ambassadors were recruited, bringing the three county (Archuleta, La Plata and Montezuma) total to 126. Of these, nine were new to Archuleta County. Local subdivisions and areas represented include Aspen Springs, the Chimney Rock area, Crowley Ranch, Echo Canyon Ranch, Loma Linda, the Lower Blanco, Pagosa Lakes POA, Sportsman’s Campground, Spring Valley Ranch and Timber Ridge.

All volunteers put in a lot of time and effort towards making their communities safer. Between homeowner volunteers and Ambassadors, over 7,100 hours of work were donated. That translates to the equivalent of more than $155,000 worth of labor. In addition to that labor, over $1.1 million in grants from state and federal agencies were obtained for mitigation efforts on 1,250 acres of private land in the tri-county area. The Weber Canyon fire near Mancos last summer provided a graphic example of the benefits of that work. No homes were lost in that recently mitigated FireWise subdivision, even though the flame front blackened everything right up to some of the residences.

Here in Archuleta County, much was accomplished. The Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to allocate Title III federal funds from the Secure Rural Schools Act, for FireWise projects over the next two years. In addition to continuing outreach and planning, this will allow FireWise to institute a chipper rebate program similar to the pilot project used in Montezuma county last year. FireWise also will mitigate demonstration sites in the Stollsteimer Creek watershed through this grant.

Archuleta County Ambassadors made significant progress. Echo Canyon Ranch formed a FireWise committee which included two new ambassadors. They partnered with Loma Linda to develop emergency egress routes between the two subdivisions. Educational materials were developed and mailed to all homeowners. Many of them performed mitigation work on their properties. Grants were obtained to mitigate 12 acres of common ground as well. The committee submitted a grant application for funding to mitigate an additional 150 acres in 2013. Homeowners erected new, blue reflective house number signs. The HOA board voted to ban open burning and to change the design guidelines to encourage mitigation. They also voted to help fund the preparation of a Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) for the subdivision. This is the first subdivision level CWPP filed in Archuleta County and final approval is expected soon.

Residents in neighboring Loma Linda subdivision were also busy. They formed a committee to begin work on a CWPP of their own. Bulletins and brochures were posted on the bulletin board and website. Two chipper days were hosted, where participants contracted a package deal to chip their piles on the same day, saving everyone a lot of money compared to hiring out the work individually. A two-acre demonstration site was mitigated using matching funds from the Colorado State Forest Service.

Pagosa Lakes Property Owners Association joined FireWise with a new Ambassador, providing a brush collection area for homeowners and chipping mounds of brush from defensible space mitigation work. A defensible space project was completed in the Vista greenbelt.

Timber Ridge residents were active this year also. They used FireWise mini-grant funds and 160 hours of volunteer labor to mitigate 20 acres of common space. Another 40 acres of homeowner properties were also mitigated for defensible space around residences. They formed a committee to begin the CWPP process for their subdivision.

The FireWise Ambassadors and their volunteers have earned our praise and thanks for their persistent efforts to save lives and property from wildfire.

If you are ready to learn more, and help, contact Bill Trimarco, FireWise coordinator, at 264-0430 or archuletafirewise@gmail.com.

This story was posted on March 28, 2013.