FIRE READY IN THE NEWS
Letter to the Editor
A few weeks ago a fire on our property in McElmo Canyon nearly destroyed our home. Thanks to the amazing work of four fire departments, including Cortez, Lewis-Arriola, Ute Mountain Ute, Dolores, and others along and a helicopter, our property was saved.
In the process, the fire marshall made a comment that has stuck with me. He told me that if I had not had Fire Ready create a defensible space around our home, it would have surely been lost in the fire. I want to take the opportunity to thank the firefighters and Fire Ready for the great work they did on our property. It not only saved our home, but the fire mitigation work completed by Fire Ready also made the firefighters' work safer as well.
Alan Cook, Cortez
By Bobby Magill
Rifle Telegram Staff Writer
If there are dry and dead grasses and trees, or unneeded brush around your house, beware. You could become a victim of fire.
With all the vegetation in the Rifle area so dry, fire danger is extreme, and fire officials and business owners who specialize in protecting homes from wildfire are imploring homeowners to clear defensible space around their homes - even in downtown Rifle.
Phil Hodgden, training officer for the Rifle Fire Department, said homeowners should keep their grass green and make sure homes aren't capped with combustible roofing material.
In downtown Rifle, he said, dead and dry grasses are extremely susceptible to fire, so yards should be kept irrigated.
Gloria Edwards, forester-turned-owner of Glenwood Springs-based Fire Ready Wildfire Protection Services, specializes in protecting homes from wildfire. She says there are dozens of things homeowners can do to protect their homes.
First, she said, make sure grasses around your house are short, and keep all vegetation within 50 feet of your home irrigated or xeriscaped.
Separate tree tops and clear brush from around your house, she said. If your yard is flat, make sure that tree crowns are at least 10 feet apart.
Edwards also said to create defensible space around your house. That means you're changing the behavior of fire, making it more and more manageable as it gets closer to your house because of shorter grasses and wetter vegetation.
The steeper the slope of your yard, she said, the more vegetation needs to be cleared.
Other things you should do to protect your home, Edwards said, are to make sure all external openings are covered, and make sure there's no way for a wildfire ember to get beneath your house.
Cover all exterior holes and vents with 1?8-inch mesh, she said.
What's more, she said, make sure you have non-flammable roofing material on your home, some of which could include Propanel, asphalt and metal. Shingles don't stand up well to fire, she said.
"If you have a roof made of combustible flammable material, good luck," Edwards said.
Even this late in the wildfire season, clearing brush away from your house is worth the effort, she said.
"It's not too late," she said. "You should do it, and do it now."
Edwards said her fire protection business has skyrocketed in recent years to where her company is protecting nearly 100 homes each year.
Many factors are involved in the overall cost of protecting a home, but a wildfire protection project for the average residence costs between $1,200 and $5,000 if homeowners choose to get the project done professionally, she said.
Tips to protect your home from wildfire
Source: USDA Forest Service, Colorado State Forest Service
The Daily Sentinel
GLENWOOD SPRINGS - More homeowners in the Colorado mountains are educated about the need to protect their homes from fires now than before the wildfires of 2002, according to an owner of a Glenwood Springs company that specializes in fire protection measures.
Gloria Edwards and her husband, Richard, have operated a Fire Ready franchise since 2003, the year after the Coal Seam Fire in Glenwood Springs, the Hayman Fire south of Denver and other huge wildfires burned hundreds of homes in Colorado.
"We used to hear people say they didn't care if their home burned down; they'd just collect insurance and build a new one," Edwards said. "Now after all the fires, I think they see things a little differently, and they don't look at their insurance company as so much of a safety net."
Defensible space is the key step homeowners can take to protect their homes from wildfire, Edwards said. It also provides a safe place for firefighters to battle the flames.
Edwards said trimming trees around a home does not mean "clear cutting."
"If you do wildfire mitigation properly, the remaining plants and trees will be healthier, wildlife will thrive, and you'll see trees and other things like wildlife that you didn't see before," she said.
Some steps Edwards recommends include:
Aspen Resort Properties
Living in the Roaring Fork Valley has its rewards - and risk. Here's what you should know to protect your property and yourself from wildfire.
Annie Morris was visiting the East Coast in late July 2002 when she got the kind of phone call all homeowners dread - her Missouri Heights neighborhood, which rises northeast above Carbondale, was on fire, and the flames seemed to be approaching her house.
"We thought we were done for sure," Morris says. "Another neighbor said, 'It's coming right for you,' and we heard that a few houses had burned."
From Morris's deck, firefighters battled to contain the wildfire that came within feet of her home but ultimately did not damage the house. When Morris and her husband returned to the Roaring Fork Valley, all the sage and scrub oak around their home had been reduced to black ash, and the neighborhood "smelled like a dirty ashtray," she recalls. Still, the Morrises were lucky - the Panorama Fire, as it came to be known, encompassed 1,600 acres of land and destroyed two homes and a residential tepee. Two other homes were damaged, as were multiple sheds, garages, and barns. The fire had been started by the spark of a soldering iron at a neighborhood construction site.
The summer of 2002 was an eye opener in Colorado, forcing many homeowners to take notice of wildfire as a serious threat. As the worst wildfire season in the state's history, 3,072 separate fires burned more than 600,000 acres, engulfing 380 houses and 624 outbuildings. According to the Colorado Division of Emergency Management, the resulting insurance claims hit $79.3 million, and firefighting and rehabilitation efforts surpassed $200 million. In the Roaring Fork Valley, in addition to the Panorama fire, the 12,000-acre Coal Seam fire in Glenwood Springs destroyed 30 structures in June.
In the upper end of the valley, it's easy to assume that the threat of wildfire is remote because of the high altitude and increased moisture this area enjoys. But fire and building officials are emphatic about the point: We all live in wildfire country.
The Roaring Fork Valley - replete with mountain vistas, clear rivers, and thick forests where people build homes and mountain getaways - makes for what fire officials call the wildland/urban interface. Living within such an area has a unique set of responsibilities: keeping a wildfire from destroying a home and/or keeping a fire within a home from reaching the surrounding forest.
"We protect a home from wildfire with construction materials and adequate water sources at the home," says Ed Van Walraven, fire marshal the Aspen Fire Protection District. "And we keep a structure fire from becoming a wildfire with sprinkler systems."
But how do you build a home that's resistant to wildfire even when it's in the path of flames? In Pitkin and Eagle counties, new homes must undergo a hazard review process that often results in required wildfire mitigation measures. Each county ranks property according to the severity of wildfire risk, taking into account the topography of the land and the vegetation. (Garfield County has no such requirements, though individual subdivisions may institute their own standards).
Tony Fusaro, chief building official for Pitkin County, says the requirements always begin with roofing materials. Wooden shakes or shingles are strictly off-limits - one small ember landing on a wooden roof could cause catastrophic damage.
Other mitigation requirements in Pitkin County (regulations in Eagle are similar) depend on the hazard rating of the property. In the most severe hazard zones, for instance, exterior wood siding is okay only if fire-resistant drywall lies underneath. Exterior walls could also be made of fire-resistant substance like stone or stucco. Windows in severe hazard zones must be made of tempered glass to withstand heat, and doors must be metal or thick wood to keep out fire. Decks also have to be fireproof - made of either metal or noncombustible materials that can withstand exposure to fire for at least an hour.
Balancing such requirements with appealing design is where the valley's architects come in, modifying a client's vision, if necessary, to protect his or her investment for the long haul. At Poss Architecture and Planning in Aspen, architect Richard de Campo substituted copper shingles for a homeowner who originally wanted a house with a cedar shake roof. Underneath the copper shingles is a fiberglass-based thermal barrier called VersaShield, by Elk Corporation, designed to provide maximum resistance against heat. "The roof then had a similar texture (to cedar shakes) with a very different material," de Campo says. "The copper was patinaed so it wasn't shiny, and it was a nice design."
Constructing a home with heavy timber, even including exposed wooden rafters, can even be a means of fire mitigation. The heavy timbers (at least six inches in diameter) won't burn as easily as thinner ones if confronted by fire and are able to withstand heat for the one-hour standard.
At CCY Architects in Basalt, designer Chris Touchette said concrete tiles that look like wooden shingles are popular for roofs, as is metal that appears to be rusting, made from Cor-ten steel. CCY has also used EcoShake shingles, which are made entirely of recycled materials.
"There are a lot of options out there - you don't have to sacrifice look," Touchette says. He also recommends building with masonry and a cement-based wood siding look-alike. "The farther you get on the edge of wildfire country, the more incentive homeowners have from an insurability standpoint to use this type of construction," he says.
Landscaping is another widely cited component of wildfire mitigation and is often considered a homeowner's first line of defense against an impending disaster. Creating a "defensible space" around a home means clearing or reducing surrounding vegetation that would serve as fuel for a wildfire. But it doesn't mean you have to denude your property (and reduce its value). "If people are going to be living in the deep woods, part of that is taking stewardship and responsibility for the health of the woods," says Gloria Edwards, who with her husband, Rich, owns Fire Ready Glenwood Springs, a wildfire protection service that helps homeowners prepare their property for fire season. "There is research that properties that are mitigated sell faster and have higher property values."
Adding water features within a landscape can also be beneficial in the case of fire. De Campo, of Poss Architecture, has worked with landscape design companies to create ponds on properties; the result is attractive landscaping, as well as a potential source of water for the fire department.
Seven homes that Rich Edwards helped mitigate in the Durango area weren't damaged by the enormous Missionary Ridge fire of 2002 - proof, perhaps, that defensible space can protect a home even in the worst circumstances.
Not everyone places the same emphasis on landscape management, however. "Reducing vegetation is the cheapest and least expensive [way of reducing fire hazards], but it's not necessarily the most effective, and it's by no means a guarantee," cautions Steve Crockett, of Aspen-based Crocket and Associates Emergency Planning Services. For example, a wind-blown ember could still easily land on a roof or deck and blaze up in no time. "In my experience, using tempered glass and noncombustible roof coverings, enclosing things like decks, and not having a source of fuel for an ember to land on are more effective," says Crockett.
On thing's for certain. Fusaro, of Pitkin County, says it's a misconception that a property can't be both appealing and provide defensible space. And the strategy has also been known to lower insurance rates.
"That's one of the arguments, when people say 'But we bought this property to be in the forest,'" Fusaro says. "Try selling that argument to your insurance company."
They'll be coming over the mountain when they come. They could be hitching a ride with an eastbound train, or even floating in on a wind-driven cloud.
But they are coming and it won't be pretty, says Allen Owen of the Colorado State Forest. It could be a major hit to our forests. The Mountain Pine Beetles have devastated the western slope and are heading our way, looking for yummy, older, unhealthy lodgepole pines to munch on, to raise families in. And we have plenty of those, in town, around town and all over our recreational playgrounds.
It's happened before and all signs are pointing to it happening again, a major epidemic, a 20-year cycle of infestation that could turn our forests into major standing dead fuel.
Prevention of a devastating infestation lies in thinning the forest, says Owen. "Mitigation and forest health go hand in hand. When you thin the forest there is less competition among the trees and they are healthier, able to stave off a beetle attack. We are terribly over-dense and overstocked and individual property owners need to work on their own forests and we need to do it in larger scales. We need more bang from our buck from the whole community."
If there is any doubt about the impact that the beetles will have on our forest, Owen suggests a drive to the other side of the Divide, to Grand, Rout and Summit Counties, where there has been no forest management in 100 years and where the beetles have hammered tens of thousands of acres of trees."
Most likely those have left their west slope homes and have been blown over the Divide. There are signs that they have set up camp in the South Boulder Creek drainage and have already infested about 200 acres near Tennessee Mountain, southwest of Eldora, where forest conditions are similar to those of Grand County.
Mountain Pine Beetles tend to go after mature lodgepole pines. Owen says renegade beetles have found a new food source here and all their relatives are soon to follow.
"They could probably move down here next. We have flown over the state and mapped certain insect patterns and the beetles in Boulder and Gilpin County are showing up as pockets of red here and there. There is a large patch on Tennessee Mountain and a lot of that property is privately owned. Patches of red have also been seen at Kelly Dahl."
In Grand County, the only green trees among the smitten forest are those that are young, growing in past thinning efforts.
But the forest industry is booming on the west slope. Residents are fighting back, spraying their trees and yards and spending huge amounts of money going after the bug. There are massive piles of wood on the ground that pose a large fire danger and there are red-needled trees everywhere, not an attractive sight to residents or tourists.
Last week at the Nederland Town Board meeting, Jennifer Murphy of Fire Ready brought the problem to the attention of the trustees, calling for pro-active response to the probability of infestation.
She referred to a couple of large clear cut areas in Big Springs, areas intended as fire breaks, possible emergency exit routes and also chances to stop the spread of the beetle while encouraging new, young, healthy growth in the midst of aging, stressed trees.
Murphy recently attended a Wildlife Mitigation Conference in Vail where the beetle problem was one of the issues discussed. A Winter Park resident reported that the area had lost 80 percent of its trees.
It is as if the beetle has decided to do the job that the forest service can't do-to deal with millions of unhealthy trees, to go after the sick and wounded.
Murphy says a backpacker recently saw a large stand of red trees on a hillside near the Moffat Tunnel, which connects the Western Slope to the Eastern Slope of Colorado and which could carry beetles. The United States Forest Service biologist verified that the red trees near the tunnel were infested.
Vail and Frisco have mandated that homeowners cut their beetle kill and dispose of the trees properly. At the Nederland town meeting, town attorney Scotty Krob verified that town ordinance demands that homeowners deal with sick trees on their property.
"Now we have to find a way to enforce that law," says Murphy. The proper way to treat infested trees is to cut, debark and spread the wood out in a sunny spot. Chipping it is the best treatment, however.
"I would like to see the town develop a mandate about the beetle. We don't want to lose 80 percent of our trees. Imagine Big Springs with no trees. We can fight the beetle. We can help prevent it. It is coming this way and if we don't deal with it, we will have dead, red, flammable trees."
Fire Ready has treated many trees in town and learned that if you have one infested tree, the beetle can spread to 30-40 others by the next season.
Nederland Mayor Laura Farris met with USFS District Ranger Christine Walsh a few weeks ago to discuss the beetle problem. Walsh said the imminent infestation had been expected, but she thought it would be a couple of years before it reached us.
Mayor Farris says, "We are aware and concerned about this problem and are asking citizens to cooperate with the town on this issue. It is very serious. If we have a lot of infected trees, we will have dead trees and the risk of a catastrophic fire. It will also affect the natural beauty of our town."
Nederland does not have the resources to enforce the town ordinance that people take down infested trees, but Farris is asking residents to help identify infected trees so the town can deal with them. She also asks property owners to act as partners to the town as well as helping their neighbors identify and get rid of beetle-infested pines.
"Hopefully, we can stay on top of this. If it gets out of control, I don't know what we will do."
In Pinebrook Hills, the residents have formed a Beetle Patrol to identify infected trees. Murphy said that would be a good idea for the mountain areas, and would help in the education process.
The town board is looking into possible plans to fend off the beetle attack and to fight it when it arrives.
Murphy says, "It is very important to have a pro-active approach. We have an opportunity to take action so we are not reacting like they have to in Winter Park. Thin now, allow trees to be healthy, so they can fight off the attack."
"It's 8:45 pm, and we are evacuating. You can reach us on our cell phones." This alarming message was left on an answering machine in Southwest Colorado in June of 2002. Forest conditions that spring were similar in many ways to our current dry spring. This homeowner - and his entire subdivision - had proactively prepared for wildfire. As a direct result of their preparation, no homes were lost in this community, though homes in neighboring subdivisions burned.
Why Are We At Risk?
Forested Subdivisions Are At Higher Risk
The risks and impacts of wildfire are increased in forested subdivisions because of the density of homes and limited access roads. Firefighting resources are stretched thin during a wildfire event, especially when multiple subdivisions are threatened. There are not enough firefighters to defend every home. Homes without defensible space place firefighters at unreasonable risk and may have to withstand a wildfire alone. Fire prevention should be evaluated as an entire subdivision, taking into account factors like access, safe zones for firefighters and multiple exits.
10) Evaluate subdivision roads for evacuation and emergency vehicle access.
"You can create defensible space on your one acre and provide a better chance of your home surviving a wildfire. But when multiple landowners are committed, it provides a much greater protection during a wildfire event. Reducing wildfire risk needs to be a concentrated, community effort."
For more information, visit these websites:
Published in the Stagecoach Property Owners Association
You've probably seen them . . . brown trees dotting the hillsides of our Yampa Valley. Many of these trees are dead or dying from Mountain Pine Beetle infestations. These infestations have occurred historically in cycles, but current beetle populations are proving to be unusually damaging to our forests-and their numbers are on the rise. As property owners and good forest stewards, we can help slow the spread of these forest pests, and in the process protect our cherished individual trees, the value of our property, and the overall health of the forest.
Our state is experiencing high populations of bark beetles. According to Dave Leatherman, of the Colorado State Forest Service, "Now is a good time to be a bark beetle in Colorado because most of our native forests are coniferous. These forests are (in general) dense, old, and stressed."
What's Wrong with my Tree?
A community-wide program of prevention and beetle population reduction is necessary in areas of high-value pines. Solutions may include thinning and pesticide application.
Forest Health & Outbreak Prevention
Mountain pine beetles (MPB) develop in pines, particularly lodgepole pines. Initially, outbreaks take advantage of trees that are stressed from drought, overcrowding, root disease or other conditions. Addressing the overall health of your forest is the first step in preventing outbreaks. As beetle populations increase, MPB attacks may spread to any or all of the large trees in the outbreak area.
In general, the MPB likes forests that are old and dense. Thinning out excess trees reduces forest density, lessens fire hazard and improves individual tree vigor. Most mature Colorado forests have about twice as many trees as a healthy forest that would be more resistant to MPB. In addition to improving the forest's overall health, thinning improves the aesthetics and value of a forested lot.
Mountain Pine Beetle Attack
Make sure that your treatment options match the correct forest-pest. Some signs and symptoms of MPB attack may include popcorn-shaped masses of resin (called "pitch-tubes"); look for piles of "boring dust"; woodpeckers feeding on the trunk or bark flakes that indicate feeding; or foliage turning yellow to red throughout the entire top of the tree.
Once MPB infests a tree, nothing practical can be done to save that tree. Under epidemic or outbreak conditions, enough beetles can emerge from an infested tree to kill about two of the same-sized trees the following year. Once the MPB has emerged from a tree (look for numerous round, pitch-free exit holes in bark) this tree cannot be saved and does not need to be treated. The direction and spread rate of a beetle infestation is impossible to predict. However, attacked trees are usually adjacent to or near trees previously killed by beetles.
There are more than twenty species of forest-pests in Colorado, affecting nearly all types of evergreen trees. Consult a professional forester to learn more about how to be a good forest steward and protect your property.
For a free site-assessment, or to receive a resource packet of information, contact Fire Ready of Steamboat Springs, at 970-819-3089.
Mountain Pine Beetle "pitch tubes"
By Jennipher Murphy
Are you planning on building a home this season or putting an addition onto your existing home? If so, an important thing to keep in mind is "fire wise" home construction. Often, we don't take into account a home's ability to withstand fire; nor are we aware of the choices we can make to increase a home's chances of surviving a wildfire. There are many options and materials to consider.
These are but a few areas to consider when working on your home. For more detailed information on making your home "fire ready," check out the following websites:
Colorado Country Life
With May's warm, breezy weather, there is a strong chance that wildfires will return to Colorado this month. They do each year. And 1.3 million Colorado residents live in areas where wildfires are possible.
Now is the time to prepare for that possibility. Taking some time to eliminate tree limbs, brush and grasses that could bring a runaway fire right to your home is a great step to take. Here are a few other suggestions offered by Fire Ready, a wildfire mitigation company with offices throughout Colorado.
Defensible space is always an important part of protecting your home and other buildings if there is a wildfire. But remember, defensible space doesn't mean clear-cut. A wildfire can be slowed by creating islands of trees away from buildings and by eliminating ways for fire to climb to the tops of trees.
So, look at your property and decide what can be done. Then, do it now before the forest dries out and fire season is here.
Wednesday, March 9, 2005
Little did Ryan and Kristine Borchers realize, when they started clearing a fire-defensible space around their Mancos Valley home in 2001, that they would be at the heart of a network of 11 branch offices less than four years later.
Seldom has there been a better example of the right business idea in the right place at the right time than the Fire Ready, Inc. concept of defensible space in southwest Colorado at the beginning of the drought and bark beetle infestation that killed millions of piňon pines. As owners of homes nestled in the forest suddenly saw themselves surrounded by brown, tinder-dry pine needles, many knew they needed help to save their homes, belongings, and themselves.
The Borchers started out with their own efforts and limited resources, but with clear principles of how to keep fire away from structures, as well as clear business principles. "We really think it's important to be part of our core community," they say, and that included buying gas and chain saws at Cox Conoco and being part of the local effort of agencies, businesses and individuals to save lives and property during several disastrous fire seasons.
Now, less than four years later, Ryan and Kristine support and coordinate franchised branches in Boulder, Colorado Springs, Crested Butte, Durango/Cortez, Fort Collins, Glenwood Springs, Pagosa Springs/Bayfield, Ridgway/Telluride, Salida, the South Platte Basin (Sedalia), Steamboat Springs, and Bend, Oregon, the first Fire Ready branch office outside Colorado.
The impact of the company has grown from creating "wildfire resistant landscaping" for 15-20 homes in the first year to more than a thousand properties that have been treated by Fire Ready to date. On their web site (www.fireready.com), the company shows telling pictures of the Missionary Ridge fire near Durango, noting that "Not one Fire Ready client lost their home. The raging tree-top fire wreaked havoc on surrounding hillsides, but dropped to the ground at the edge of this Fire Ready landscape."
Though the company has changed form, and many competitors have sprung up locally and in communities where they have franchises, the Borchers operate their business under the same principles. As Kristine told The Mancos Times Saturday, "we really operate like a business cooperative."
In keeping with their creed of local investment, the Borchers annually bring all their branch owners to the home office for a session of training and learning. Last week, the group of 20 was based at Sundance Bear Lodge. The food was ordered from P&D Grocery, and brunches were catered by the Absolute Bakery. In the evenings, the out-of-town guests got to visit the Columbine and the Millwood. Friday's training exercise took place at the Summit Lake Community Church, improving the safety zone for Pastor Scott Christensen and his congregation. The Fire Ready website, which serves as a communication network among the branches in addition to marketing Fire Ready services, was created by Pixel Right.
Listening to the sharing of experiences Saturday morning at Sundance Bear, the Times noted that the group of 20 hardy, tree-felling, branch-chipping, franchise-owners included six women among their number. The men and women clearly reflected in the branches the philosophy that prevails at the headquarters. "Fire protection is an issue that affects the whole community," as Ryan Borchers put it - all the players have to be working together. The experiences brought by the owners of the established branches to the "newbies" carries a consistent message: You have to be part of your community, not just in it.
That message has undoubtedly been a factor in Fire Ready's phenomenal growth in such a short time.
For more information about Fire Ready, Inc., and its services, visit the website (www.fireready.com) or contact Mike Kane, Jr. at 533-7078.
By Jennipher Murphy
Coloradans can probably all agree that the rain we are getting this season is refreshing and welcomed. After years and years of talking about, and media reporting on drought, residents can't complain. Conversely we are being told that we have a long way to go before we can dig ourselves out of drought conditions. So what does this mean for wildfires?
The Forest Service has been telling us that when we open up our back doors and look out at the beautiful landscapes, that what we see is, in actuality "not natural". In the early 20th century, when fires weren't suppressed, there were on average 55 trees per acre in this area. Now it is over 355 trees per acre. A majority of the tree stands are sterile, condensed of the same age and species, void of diversity. Now we have rain, rain abundant enough to disburse water to those seedlings that are fighting desperately for sun and nutrients. An important benefit of this rain is helping to create more diversity in tree and plant species. This season has brought the most abundant variety of wildflower and the grasses are growing at an all time high. Undeniably, it is beautiful driving around and seeing color instead of lots of brown. Water is most imperative to the sustain ability of our state. Colorado's population is increasing and along with that comes new demands for water. People are dependent on rain for drinking water, irrigation and for hydroelectric power and then there is the often overlooked sporting industry. Are there negatives to all of this water? One reason could be quality of water. The intensity of the fires that are occurring cause more severe ecosystem damage. Water managers are concerned about the water quality due to the excessive runoff and sedimentation in the burned areas of our forests. Another is that the more it rains, the higher the grasses grow and the thicker the underbrush develops.
The 2002 fire season was the worst in Colorado history. Many of these fires started in thick, dry layers of needles, leaves and grass before being carried to shrubs, brush and ultimately the tree crowns. The heavy rain that Colorado is experiencing is increasing the density of the ground cover. The grass is a special danger because it tends to dry out as the summer progresses, posing a fire danger. The Snaking Fire began in a layer of dry grasses and brush and the Black Mountain Fire was carried into the forest by a thick layer of pine needles and occasional pockets of large dead and down fuels. The characteristics of grass fires are described by fire professionals as "cool-burning" because they release much less heat than forest fires. Grass fires are quick to ignite and to spread , getting the distinction of "carriers". The carrier fuels, such as grass, lead the fire directly to your house or to the ladder fuels which can take the fire up into the canopies. This is why residents must take actions in this heavy moisture season to assist with the prevention of wildfires.
Residents and homeowners can do some things on their properties to reduce their risk for wildfire. Following are some tips.
Following these guideline would get you well on your way to creating a defensible space. Removing even single trees throughout a stand has proven to increase the amount of snow stored and water released from that site. This means more water for other needs of Coloradans.
By starting on your property, you will be not only helping yourselves but also will be an example of being good stewards of your land. Hopefully your neighbors will notice what you are doing and be encouraged to start their own projects. The more people that mitigate and remove these hazardous materials around you, the better chance you will have in surviving a wildfire.
By Angie Jenson
The Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003 is a national program that can benefit local subdivisions with a Wildfire Protection Plan in place. This act restores healthy forest conditions near communities. It emphasizes the need for our federal agencies to work with your communities' Wildfire Protection Plan to develop hazardous fuel reduction projects.
What does this mean for our local subdivisions in our mountain
communities? It gives an encompassing approach to wildfire
mitigation. It begins with one person's desire for their community
to be fire ready. A subdivision's wildfire mitigation starts with a
Wildfire Protection Plan.
Step 1-Organize a board of key players with decision makers, leaders, agency representatives, and wildfire mitigation experts
Step 2-Establish a subdivision map that includes:
Step 3-Develop a Community Risk Assessment with the help of the local fire departments, State Forest Service, or fire mitigation experts. These consultations are free as a service to Chaffee County and will help the residents understand what actions need be taken for each individual to make their lot safe for the subdivision as a whole. The consultant and board of key players should address:
Step 4-Develop an evacuation plan for the subdivision
Step 5-Establish priorities
For any help with writing up a Wildfire Hazard Mitigation and Response Plan go to www.firewise.org/co/ and click on "CSFS Hazard Evaluation Response Plan Format" or click on "Preparing a community Wildfire Protection Plan-a handbook for Wildland/Urban interface communities"
If your subdivision does not already have such a plan in place,
you should encourage homeowners and community officials to do so.
These plans help when applying for state and federal
By Angie Jenson
The sound of work in the forests will be heard throughout the next 5 summers. The hum of chainsaws, the crackle of controlled burning, and the consulting voices of resource officials are a comforting sound to many of us that live and play in the forested interface. Many of us know that this sound is the active implementation of our tax dollars at work to improve our public lands and make our private lands safer.
The Salida/Leadville Districts of the USFS recognized the need to address the local issues involving our forest's health. It became obvious to our foresters that our forests where overcrowded, weak, suppressed, disease and fire prone. Salida Ranger District implemented the Westside Project to address issues of Mountain Pine Beetle, Dwarf Mistletoe, and the urban interface wildfire problem. The project encompasses the west side of the hwy from Salida to Granite.
The project was approved in Aug of 2001. It is an ongoing project and will continue for at lease another 5 years. Sam Schroeder from the USFS has found much success in past work projects and will continue to monitor the work.
chroeder has tailored the project to improve forest health by thinning the vegetation with large and small timber sales, service contracts, mechanical fuels treatments, and firewood sales. The Westside Project has completed 6 out of the 15+ miles of fuel break in the urban/wildland interface.
Controlled burning is another way the project has been implemented to improve forest conditions. Federal firefighters have been out with drip torches to burn vegetated fuel that has accumulated into unnatural amounts. Fuel reduction projects and prescribed fire has treated nearly 3000 acres of public lands.
The year 2004 our federal crews will include a 3 person initial attack engine crew, a 4-5 person fuels crew, and 2 fire management officers. These federal employees are fire personnel that will be working on the Westside project as well as fulfilling their regular duties as wildland firefighters. The firefighters will be prepping for control burns, marking areas for timber sales, and mechanical treatment of sawing and chipping.
This year's projects will include the Three and Four Elk areas in
the Leadville District, Trail West Subdivision, and the southern
area near the Weldon Creek Subdivision. Presently resource
specialists from the USFS will be conducting an Environmental
Assessment for the Kaufman Project near Trout Creek
Homeowners and subdivisions can apply for the Good Neighbor
Program with the USFS and CSFS. The object is to reduce fuel loads
on public lands bordering private lands that are actively doing fire
mitigation. A requirement to apply for the program is for a
landowner/subdivision to develop a Wildfire Protection Plan. The
CSFS can help with this. At this point the USFS will do an
Environmental Assessment and a prescription will be written.
Implementation of work on federal lands will complement the work
being accomplished on private lands.
By Angie Jenson
The typical Colorado mountain subdivision is intermixed into dense stands of wildland vegetation. Most of this vegetation is unnatural, dog-haired, insect-infested, and mistle-toed. Building in the wildland interface is an accepted practice that offers beauty, seclusion, and life amongst an outdoor setting. But homeowners and landowners have quickly realized that it is imperative that one mitigates for the extra risk that comes with building in such a setting.
This risk is wildfire. It burns thousands of acres in Colorado's wildlands. The heavy-stocked vegetation brings a fuel load that is not conducive to the fires that naturally burnt slowly, sustained a low intensity, reduced the fuel load, and recycled the nutrients into the ground without sterilizing the soil.
Over a hundred years ago western forests were vastly different than they are today. Fire suppression and past logging practices have left modern forests dense with vegetation. A century ago, ponderosa pine forests contained 25 to 60 stems per acre; today these same forests commonly support well over 275 stems per acre. The result has been a rash of wildfires throughout the west burning at an intensity not seen in historical forests. These fires destroy homes, put firefighters at risk, and leave the landscape blackened.
Forest stewardship calls for landowners to monitor the health of their forested lands and keep them healthy and safe for those living in the area and safe for the firefighters that protect the area in a fire event. Salida's Colorado State Forest Service is calling for everyone to work toward a common goal. They are working with landowners to bring the forests back into balance.
The Salida District asks one to imagine a charred view of the mountains stretching from Maysville to Clear Creek Reservoir. It does not seem like an exaggeration when put into perspective of the recent Hayman and Missionary Ridge fires. When fire comes to our valley, we want the soils to remain productive, trees to be green, animals still occupying space, minimal sediment in our water and homes unscathed.
By William Leavitt
The market for wildfire-mitigation services in the Durango area is burning red-hot, as local firms help homeowners and businesses take steps to protect their properties from fires.
Demand for fire-protection services has surged since the Missionary Ridge Fire erupted in 2002, when residents throughout La Plata County found that "fires just started burning all their stuff down," said Dale Wallace, owner of Wallace Fencing. The company offered fire-protection services from 2002 until this year, when it became unable to keep pace with demand, Wallace said. He switched back to just building fences, and dropped the fire protection aspect of his business.
Troy and Dana Flory opened a brush and tree removal business called Brush Hogs in early July that is based in their home in Hesperus. They say they already have been flooded with fire-protection jobs. The area's troubles with wildfires in recent years "have really been bringing people to the realization that there's a lot they can do" on their own to safeguard their homes, Mrs. Flory said.
During large-scale wildfires, firefighting resources are often stretched thin and unable to concentrate on protecting individual homes. This, say the fire protection-companies, is what makes pre-emptive fire-mitigation efforts like defensible space so important.
And it's not just private homeowners who are getting in on the act. Brush Hogs, for example, has two outstanding bids with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The city of Durango has had a contract with Firesmart, a local fire-mitigation business, to lower the fire risk of the city's open spaces for the last two years, said Firesmart's owner John Westrup.
The region around Durango is emerging as one of the nation's leaders as far as fire-prevention education and choice of companies for providing defensible space, Westrup said.
Westrup founded Firesmart in 2000. "Since then, there have been tons of companies" entering the market, he said. Despite the increasing competition, he easily could have could have expanded his company, he said, but opted for staying with just one work crew so he could maintain his personal touch. Now, he says, "I think the market is pretty much reaching its saturation point."
However, most of the business owners contacted reported they're still running at capacity. Many answering machines reporting that all employees were "probably out in the field" working.
Business has been particularly good to Kristie Borchers, who founded the fire-mitigation company Fireready with her husband, Ryan, in 2001. Since then, the company has franchised nine new offices in various locations around Colorado.
"Since 2001, we've seen huge growth" in the industry, she said. The company operates fire-protection crews and provides consulting to other fire-protection firms, she said.
The industry's expansion might soon lose steam, however, as established companies begin to consolidate their market share and raise the overall level of service. "We're trying to develop an industry that has truly professional standards," said Borchers. She hopes that some sort of fire-protection association will emerge in the coming years to regulate industry standards. So far, "we haven't seen any other communities as involved collaboratively as Durango," she said, even though "as far as the industry goes, it's still somewhat in its infancy."
By Arlene Shovald
Angie Jenson is drawn to fire like a moth to a flame - but her attraction lies more in preventing it.
Working with the U.S. Forest Service, she experienced fire behavior ranging from Florida to Michigan to as close as Methodist Mountain in Salida. Internationally, she's seen fire behavior in Australia and Canada.
She worked full seasons on helicopter crews, hotshot crews, engine crews and hand crews.
"I have seen the devastation wreaked by fire, and know how important it is to keep forest fuels from building up and sustaining a catastrophic wildfire," Jenson said.
She works with Fire Ready, a wildfire prevention and protection organization serving Colorado and forested communities throughout the West.
"Fire Ready is emerging as the nationwide leader in the new and growing industry of wildfire mitigation and consulting services," Jenson said.
"We lower the risk of wildfire by reducing materials which could fuel a fire around homes and communities. An additional benefit - aside from safety- is that wildfire mitigation can increase property value, wildlife activity and the general health of trees.
"As the forest opens, the landscape becomes more attractive and appealing to walk through."
Jenson works on a knowledgeable crew with experience in wildland fire and chainsaw work. A large capacity chipper is transported to sites where fuels are cleared from the land in a way that intrudes "lightly" on the environment.
"People think of us as fire resistant landscaping," Jenson said. "When we get a call from a homeowner, we go to the property, do a wildfire assessment and provide them with a free estimate as to how much it will cost to do what they need done."
The major priority is defensible space directly around the house. The crew works into zones extending from the house, thinning and reducing fuel load.
A fire drops as it gets into zones near the house, making the house defendable and preventing the wildfire from burning trees around the home, she said.
Growing up in Blackfoot, Idaho, Jenson majored in and graduated with a degree in natural resources because she loves ecology and working outdoors.
"I love my job," she said. "I have a four year degree in environmental studies and started working with the U.S. Forest Service in Saguache. I've been with the USFS for seven seasons - six of those in fire."
She worked on a hot shot crew for one season and worked in Australia for a season, fighting fires there about four months.
"After my first fire I was sucked into it," she said. "Before long I was doing it full time."
Firefighting in Idaho was a challenge because there is so much wilderness and access was difficult.
"We had to fly to everything and our provisions had to be flown in," she said. "The craziest behavior I've ever seen in fires, though, is in the pinon/juniper in Colorado. The fuel load in pinon/juniper is extreme"
Fire Ready opened locally in early spring and will be available year around. It will work through the winter, but the biggest seasons are spring, summer and fall.
The firm services Saguache, Chaffee and Lake counties and parts of Fremont and Park.
"People in the local area have been incredible," Jenson said. "They have accepted us and understand we're here to help them protect their most important asset - their home."
A typical day on the job for Jenson begins about 7 a.m., getting the chainsaws and chipper going, cutting and limbing trees.
Brush is dragged to the chipper and from there, dispersed to the landscape so the natural material is returned to the land.
"Recycling the biomass keeps moisture in the soil and is aesthetically pleasing," Jenson said. "It also increases the home's value by a huge percent."
When favorite trees are involved, the crew will work around them, salvaging the tree while maintaining as much protection for the home as possible.
"We don't do a clear cut around the house," Jenson said. "We just reduce the fuels to make them manageable for firefighters."
If the homeowner wants the firewood, the Fire Ready crew will cut it up for them or, if they don't want it, local loggers may come in and take it.
"We've been really busy since we started in the spring," Jenson said, "and that's good because it shows people are concerned about their property and want to protect it."
By Christine Dell'Amore
The tiny Ips beetles that have ravaged forests throughout the state continue to burrow their way into valley pines.
"The population of bugs are going up - there's lot of food up the Roaring Fork Valley," said Kelly Rogers, assistant district forester for the Colorado State Forest Service in Grand Junction. "We're anticipating more activity and more impacts on the landscape out there."
The small insect, less than an inch long, attacks weakened pine trees by developing under the bark and cutting off the sap flow from the roots, said Scott Formby, forester for the state forest service. In the juniper and piñon pine woodlands of the Roaring Fork Valley, the beetles have settled into the pines crippled by the six-year drought.
The beetles, which evolved with the trees, proliferate under drought conditions when the trees can't adequately defend themselves against attack, Rogers said.
The worst infestation has occurred in the Four Corners area, where the tiny beetles have decimated nearly 80 percent of the pines, according to the 2003 Report on the Health of Colorado's Forests.
The Roaring Fork Valley's elevation may become its "saving grace" against a similar infestation - piñons, and therefore Ips beetles, predominate in wetter areas of higher elevations, such as in the Four Corners area, Rogers said. Much of the Roaring Fork Valley is covered in a mixed oakbrush and juniper woodland type, without many areas of widespread piñon.
But certain regions in the valley do have pure piñon stands, such as the red hills north of Carbondale, said Winslow Robertson, a fire ecologist for the Bureau of Land Management's Grand Junction and Glenwood Springs field offices.
"I've got some real concerns in the Roaring Fork, especially these stands that are predominately piñon," Robertson said.
The first sign of an infestation appears in pitch tubes of sap that look like "little pieces of bubble gum" all over the tree trunk, an effort by the tree to push the insects out, Formby said. Once the beetle has bored in, fine sawdust - boring dust - will be deposited around the tree. In a few months, the tree will begin to fade, the needles will go brown, and then "the tree is history," said Rich Edwards, co-owner of Fire Ready, a wildfire mitigation company in Glenwood Springs.
The beetle infestation poses a dilemma for fire ecologists, since their presence can both reduce and add to wildfire hazards. The dead needles of the pines, which can stay on the tree for up to two years and provide more fuel in the case of a wildfire, is a short-term hazard. However, after the needles drop, the dead wood, in its vertical position, will limit the spread of a fire, according to Robertson. In addition, in a post-fire environment, pines become weakened, providing an ideal state for the beetles to multiply. For example, at the site of the Coal Seam Fire, the Ips beetle has affected several pines, Rogers said.
Wood pieces left on properties following wildfire mitigation can also contribute to beetle populations, since the beetles like the freshly-cut wood, Edwards of Fire Ready said. The solution has become a bit of a controversy for foresters and officials, but many have agreed that protecting against wildfire trumps the beetles, Edwards said.
"We're trying to get more fuel projects implemented on the ground, but now Mother Nature's throwing us a curve ball," Robertson said.
In his wildfire mitigation projects, Edwards has remedied the problem by blowing wood chips away from other pines, so that the beetles can't spread to new trees.
Controlling the beetle boom has proven difficult for forestry officials. In times of low infestations, birds such as woodpeckers and flickers will eat the beetles, but when the beetles explode in population, they alone can't control the insects.
Landowners with infected trees have a few options: they can kill the beetles using insecticides such as permethrin or carbaryl, or remove the tree altogether.
Eileen Coch, a resident of Elk Creek subdivision near New Castle, had her husband cut down two beetle-infested piñons on her family's property last year.
"When you live in a subdivision where you crave privacy, your trees are very valuable," Coch said, adding that their absence has left a gap where she can see her neighbor's cars. The state forest service recommended that Coch remove the trees to prevent the beetle spreading to her other seven piñons.
Efforts are underway to assess exactly how many trees in the valley and throughout the state suffer from the Ips beetle. In August or September, the U.S. Forest Service will conduct an aerial insect disease survey with assistance from the state forest service, Rogers said.
Although the beetles sometimes go through intense population cycles, they have always been a part of nature in the valley. But the high density of trees in the valley, due to decades of fire suppression practices, is not so natural.
"Not many people like to hear this, but there's way too many trees out there," Edwards said. "It's just optimal conditions with so many pinions getting stressed with drought. It's a perfect formula."
By Gloria Edwards
Warmer weather means that the gardens are in, the barbeques are lit, and summer is getting into full swing here in the Crystal River Valley. Unfortunately, it also brings reminders of the 2002 fire season and the two-year anniversary of the Coal Seam Fire. We've been blessed with some additional moisture this spring, but the Fire Behavior Research Station based in Missoula, Montana, places the Glenwood Canyon and surrounding areas into the High to Very High Fire Danger Class as of June 4. Almost 9,000 acres have burned this year alone in Colorado. Wildfire risk here is real. But there are many things that homeowners can do to proactively reduce their wildfire risk!
Steps to take: Get defensible!
1) Create your defensible space.
2) Maintain your defensible space annually.
3) Evaluate your home for wildland fire safety.
Reducing wildfire risk not only helps the homeowner, but it also makes communities and subdivisions safer from wildfire, increases property values, improves wildlife habitat, and reduces the risk of disease and insect damage to trees. Emergency response teams and firefighters are safer responding to defensible homes. Property owners and communities can become stewards of forest health. And the homeowner may have some improved views to show for their work!
By Christine Dell'Amore
When Kris Wilson saw smoke rising from the Coal Seam Fire in 2002, she and her husband, Roger Wilson, decided it was time to fireproof their home.
"I said to Roger, 'What if that happens to us?' " Kris Wilson said. She and Roger have lived in the hills above the Colorado Mountain College's Spring Valley campus in Glenwood Springs for four years.
The Wilsons consulted the Carbondale Fire Department, which helped the couple lay out a plan for creating defensible space around their property. Most recently, the couple called upon Fire Ready, a new fire mitigation company in Glenwood Springs owned by Gloria and Rich Edwards, to enact the plan and mitigate a 100-foot perimeter around their home.
On a recent windy afternoon, the Edwardses walked through the Wilsons' property, pointing out clumps of sagebrush, serviceberry bushes and oak that remain after thinning, or cutting, much of the dense vegetation near the house.
When first surveying a property, Rich Edwards asks the homeowner what he or she believes the biggest threat would be in a fire. As heavy gusts whipped through the hillside, it's no surprise Roger Wilson mentioned the wind. "It's so dangerous I decided to cut more than required because of the winds," he said.
Techniques can help
"We use thinning and clumping techniques to change the behavior of a fire as it approaches a home in a wildfire event," Rich Edwards said. By clumping vegetation, a fire likely would fall to the ground and turn to embers between groups of trees. Thinning limits a fire's ability to spread.
The dominant vegetation type in this region is oak, and it's one of the most dangerous, Rich Edwards said. "It's incredibly flashy, and it burns intensely." The 1994 Storm King fire was an oak-driven fire.
Throughout Colorado and the West, fire intensity and severity have boomed in the past 10 years. Partly to blame are the more than one million people living in the "red zone," a region of high-risk for fire, according to the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. A buildup of small trees and undergrowth, resulting from a policy of fire suppression, also have set up conditions for catastrophic blazes.
"Fire is nature cleaning herself," Gloria Edwards said. "It just so happens that people's homes are in the way, and so the responsibility for the forest falls on the landowner."
And with fire season rapidly approaching, Rich Edwards said the time is now to protect homes, not when the "fire is burning over the next ridge."
But fireproofing a home doesn't mean losing the beauty of mountain living, Gloria Edwards said. Although stumps dot the Wilson's property, aspen, evergreen and other trees still exist - enough vegetation to provide a sense of privacy and enjoyment of nature.
"One of the things we try to educate is that you don't need a pyramid in a gravel lot," Gloria Edwards said.
There are positives, too
Mitigation can also bring positive effects, such as providing more open areas for wildlife to graze. "I want to go out with my coffee in the morning and talk to Bambi," Roger Wilson said.
The Edwardses have worked to spread their message of wildfire prevention since the opening of Fire Ready on May 1. The Glenwood Fire Ready branch is part of a network of 10 offices in Colorado, and was founded in 2001 in Durango. Of the 75 Fire Ready homes that have been exposed to wildfire throughout the state, none have burned. Rich Edwards, a lifelong forester, provides a scientific complement to Gloria Edwards' background in firefighting education.
"We're using any avenue we can to educate the community about wildfire hazards and what a homeowner can do," Gloria Edwards said.
By contacting homeowner associations, fire departments and insurance agencies, among many others, to talk about fire mitigation, the Edwardses hope that they can get make people aware of the importance of fire prevention. So far, they've received a "tremendous response" from the community, Gloria Edwards said.
Protecting your home against fire is an ongoing effort, but when a fire does come through, mitigation pays off, Rich Edwards said. The Wilsons' next project is to create an effective escape route for fire trucks in the case of a blaze.
"If you live in this kind of area, you can't help but think about
mitigation," Kris Wilson said. "It's just common sense."
By John Crane
The heat is on, as the song goes. Or it will be soon.
And Fire Ready will be there to help homeowners carve defensive space around their houses to ward off flames and to prevent beetles from slowly killing, drying out trees and turning them into fuel for wildfires.
Fire Ready in Durango and Cortez is under new ownership since Ryan and Kristie Borchers sold the franchise to Mike Kane Sr. last winter. The younger Kane is project manager while Mike Sr. is owner. The fire prevention business now has several franchises across Colorado since demand for its services has stretched to the Front Range.
But people frequently misunderstand creating defensible space as "clearcutting." Fire Ready eliminates certain trees but others may be left to preserve aesthetic balance, said Mike Jr. in an interview at the Journal office Monday afternoon.
"We pick and chose certain trees to take," Kane said. "We may take down dead piñon trees and leave junipers."
The Kanes and Fire Ready remove selected trees for aesthetic as well as safety reasons. Clumps of trees can slow a wildfire's rapid spread. The biggest concern is ladder fuels - vegetation sending flames to treetops that quickly spread the fires through "crowning."
Piñons and ponderosas are vulnerable to attacks from mountain pine and western pine beetles, Mike Jr. said. And ips beetles have been infesting ponderosas as well. Those problems can be alleviated or solved through preventive spraying.
Fire Ready can also chip slash left over from cut trees.
And for ornery homeowners who want to retain trees obscuring their neighbors, the Kanes can accommodate them, too.
Adequate defensible space varies depending upon terrain. Houses on top of slopes need more defensible space since fire travels quickly uphill, Mike Jr. said. More than 1.3 million state residents live within a wildfire's path and rural Western populations continue to grow.
Insurance companies will begin to play a role in encouraging homeowners to practice fire mitigation, said Tom Ervin, State Farm insurance agent.
In the near future, State Farm will send consultants to inspect homes and advise owners how to minimize chances of being hit by a wildfire. Homeowners will be given a few years to reduce risk, Ervin said. Ervin added that such practices are popping up at insurance companies across the nation where natural disasters are common.
The local Fire Ready has helped roughly 300 homeowners with fire mitigation in the last couple of years, Kane said.
The Kanes' areas of concentration are Montezuma and La Plata
counties. They have worked 20 sites so far this year.
By Dale Rodebaugh
This weekend's rain and snow may come as some relief to the warm, drier-than-usual March that threatened to negate the effects of a winter that got off to a wet start. But regional fire officials still have reason to be concerned about the upcoming fire season.
The wet weather "was helpful, but it depends on what happens the rest of the month," according to Mike Chamberlain, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
"This storm is not the only one we'll see in April," he said.
"But will the others be of the same magnitude? Certainly
Abundant snow at the beginning of the year left the Animas, San Juan, San Miguel and Dolores basins at 120 percent of their 30-year average pack for the date, according to Mike Gillespie, snow survey supervisor at the National Resources Conservation Service in Denver. When March ended Wednesday, the same basins had 75 percent of their 30-year average, he said.
If it's any consolation, the region had received 103 percent of the snow it had last year at this time, Gillespie said last week.
"It's too early to get in a super panic, but without much precip,
we could be in for a busy year," said Scott McDermid, helitack
supervisor at Mesa Verde National Park. "We have a ways to go
because April could still be wet."
"We're starting our dry conditions a little earlier than usual, but it's hard to predict what kind of summer we'll have," Klatt said. "We had a more normal winter than in recent years, but March didn't produce moisture. Spring showers could help a little."
Firefighters have seen the effects of dry weather already -
controlled burns that get away from private landowners.
Dave Abercrombie, public information officer with Durango Fire & Rescue Authority, said agency crews have been called out on a couple of controlled burns that escaped their boundaries.
"They were no big deals," Abercrombie said. "Two years ago, when
we didn't have snow, we were out in January and February. We like
people to have tools and water ready when they burn. But at the
first sign of trouble, give us a call."
Navajo Reservoir, with a capacity of 1.7 million acre-feet of water, has about 786,000 acre-feet, Beegles said. Vallecito Reservoir, capacity 120,000 acre-feet, was at 73,000 acre-feet as of Friday; Lemon Reservoir, capacity 40,000 acre-feet, stood at 13,000 acre-feet; and 1,300 acre-foot Red Mesa Reservoir was full.
While it's great news that reservoirs are filling, there is concern also, Pat Page from the Bureau of Reclamation said. Warm weather in March melted snow, but unseasonable conditions through the month means there is less snow to melt later.
"There is a huge concern," Page said.
Dan Long, business manager of Fort Lewis Mesa Fire Protection District, is cautious, too.
"We haven't had any fires get out of control this year," Long said. "But it's going to be just as dry this year as the past two years. The added snowpack isn't going to help the wildland fire season."
Long said the amount of forest fuels hasn't diminished, citing the vast number of dead and dying piñon pines killed by beetle infestations.
Forest Service crews are taking advantage of current conditions to begin prescribed burns - closely monitored, deliberately set fires to reduce the accumulation of brush and small trees in forests. Two operations were carried out Thursday, one near Pagosa Springs, the other north of Dolores. Others are scheduled next week, depending on weather conditions.
"They were both small burns, begun and expected to be over in one day," said Pam Wilson, a fire information officer at the Public Lands Center in Durango.
Public crews aren't the only ones at work reducing accumulated undergrowth.
Mike Kane, owner of Fire Ready of Durango and Cortez, said his
employees have been working steadily since January.
Kane said he has other jobs on the books, but dates haven't been scheduled.
Mark Lauer, fire management officer for the Public Lands Center, expects a fairly normal year.
"Yeah, we'll have some fires, but really it depends on the weather, whether we get some moisture periodically," Lauer said.
Data from Chapin Mesa at Mesa Verde show that from October 2003 through March the area received 6.74 inches of precipitation - 70 percent of its 80-year average moisture and about 4 inches short of the same period the preceding year. Chapin Mesa got 6.34 inches of precipitation from October 1999 through March 2000; 3.51 inches from October 2001 through March 2002; and 10.69 inches for 2002-03.
"We're better off than we were in 2002 at this time," said Ross Wilmore, fire management officer at Mesa Verde. "This year it depends on what happens in April."
Allen Farnsworth, fire mitigation and education specialist at the
Public Lands Center, said the mild concern he felt in early March
has increased because of the many record or near-record temperatures
recorded in the Four Corners recently.
Klatt probably summed up best the weather outlook for the coming months.
"It's difficult to make long-term predictions," Klatt said, noting that "overall it's not as bad as 2002 and it's a little improvement over 2003 at this point. But beyond that, I wish I had my crystal ball."
Colorado has its share of wildfires. Each year, thousands of acres of forests burn when lightning and careless people start fires that race out of control. And, with 1.3 million Colorado residents living directly in the path of wildfires, that can mean problems for a lot of people.
Too often homeowners don't believe a fire will ever come their way. But it can. Just ask the homeowners who were in the paths of the recent Missionary Ridge Fire, Million Fire, Hayman Fire, Iron Mountain Fire, and others.
They will tell you that now, before fire season, is the time to prepare. Work you do now can reduce the risk to your property and lessen the problems if fire comes your way.
The best place to start is when you build or remodel. Use fire-resistant construction materials, especially for the roof of your home and outbuildings. It is also a good idea to develop emergency water supplies, particularly if you live far from water lines or a developed community. Prepare each year for the fire season and talk to you neighbors about reducing the fire risk throughout the area. And, most important, create a defensible space for your home and then maintain it annually.
A common misconception is that a defensible space means all the trees are gone, clear-cut, with none of the attractive forests that brought you to the area in the first place. That is not true, according to Ryan Borchers of Mancos, owner of Fire Ready, a wildfire mitigation company.
A wildfire can be slowed by creating islands of trees away from buildings and by eliminating ways for fire to climb into the tops of trees. Essentially, a defensible space will slow a wildfire and decrease its intensity.
The dimensions of a defensible space are subjective, and depend on what the land and buildings are like, Borchers explained. Typically, a flat defensible space extends about 75 feet out from a building. More space is needed if the structure is on a slope. The first 15 feet would be clear of all flammable material, with the remainder having its vegetation thinned. Dry grass and weeds would be kept to less than six inches and tree branches would be pruned to a height up to 10 feet above the ground. Branches extending over roofs would be trimmed. Pine needles and leaves would be cleaned from roofs and gutters.
Some of this is an easy weekend project. Other work may require
assistance. Look at your property and decide what needs to be done.
And do it now, before the forest dries out and fire season is here.
That is the best defense for your home.