2003 Fire Ready in the news
"Tiny Beetles Attacking Trees Across State Pack a Punch," Durango
Herald, October 11, 2003
"Battling the Ips," Durango
Herald, October 11, 2003
"Slurry System Protects Homes," Durango
Herald, September 7, 2003
"Wildfire Slurry for Homes Comes to Colorado," Denver
Post, September 1, 2003
"Fending Off the Flames," Boulder
Daily Camera, June 30, 2003
"Resident Reflects on Personal Responsibility," Durango
Herald, June 15, 2003 (2003 Homeowner's Guide to Fire Prevention)
"Beetle Epidemic: Seek Treatments, Hope for Best," Pagosa
Springs SUN, June 12, 2003
"Ready for Fire," Building
America magazine, Spring 2003
"Creating Defensible Space," Pagosa
Springs SUN, April 24, 2003
"Mitigation franchise battles fuel-laden forest danger," The
Mountain Ear (Nederland, CO), April 24, 2003
"Fire Fears," National Public
Radio, March 4, 2003
"Foresight Saved Durango Homes," Denver
Post, February 17, 2003
"Tiny Beetles Attacking Trees Across State Pack a Punch"
By Dale Rodebaugh
The beetle attacking piñon pines across the Western states,
including Colorado, is one of 11 species of ips beetle, according
to Dave Leatherman, a Colorado State Forest Service entomologist.
Eight species of ips attack pines and three go after spruce,
Leatherman said. The ips, about the size of a grain of rice
and reddish-brown to black in color, usually attacks trees
weakened by root injuries or under stress from drought.
The ips' modus operandi: A male bores under the bark of a
tree to build what is known as a nuptial chamber. Females
are attracted by pheromones (chemicals) produced by the male.
After spending the winter under the bark of a tree or in
litter at the base of a tree, the ips emerges in the spring
to begin its attack on weakened trees. A new generation of
ips can appear about every two months. Homeowners who cut
trees for firewood to reduce wildfire danger are contributing
a prime ips breeding site, Leatherman said. The bugs will
make their home in the cut firewood.
In face of the ips infestation, homeowners can take a number
of steps to protect their piñons. Experts say some of the
things to keep in mind:
- Trees susceptible to ips attack are newly transplanted
trees, trees with root injury from construction or trees
near large populations of beetles.
- Water trees adequately, but not excessively.
- Thin stands of piñon to allow each tree enough sunlight
and nutrients to remain healthy. Thinning should be done
in the winter, the ips' dormant period.
- Spray healthy trees, not dead ones, in the spring and
summer. Insecticides include permethrin (Astro) or carbaryl
- Spraying is intended for valued trees. It is not meant
as a forest-wide practice. Ryan Borchers, with Fire Ready
Inc., said his firm charges $575 for the first 200-gallon
tank and $540 for the second. A 200-gallon tank, he said,
should protect 30 to 60 piñons.
- Cut dead trees and haul away or burn logs during the
beetle's dormant season in the winter.
- Chip cut limbs and spread debris thinly.
- Never stack green or coniferous logs or infested logs
next to living coniferous trees.
- No chemical treatment exists for trees already infested
with the ips beetle.
Every evergreen has its nemesis, Leatherman said. While
the ips attacks piñons and spruce, the ponderosa pine is
under siege by the mountain pine beetle, the western pine
beetle and the red turpentine beetle, he said.
Some 358,000 ponderosa in Colorado fell victim to the mountain
pine beetle last year, mainly around Vail and Buena Vista.
Back to top
"Battling the Ips"
By Dale Rodebaugh
MANCOS - Like a fort on the frontier, the 40
piñon-studded acres owned by Lee and Peggy Cloy west of here
stand as a bulwark against the advance of the ips beetle,
which is ravaging millions of acres of the pine in the West.
Perhaps 15 percent of the Cloys' trees are infested, but
compared with neighboring land, the acreage is relatively
untouched. The Cloys' unflagging offense against the beetle
may be paying off.
They have good reason to fight for their forest. The idyllic
setting includes meadows and a 4½-acre reservoir as well
as piñons, ponderosa pines and two or three species of cedars
all sheltering Willowtail Springs, a bed and breakfast. The
couple also markets the site for weddings, corporate gatherings
and weekend getaways.
With permission from neighbors, Mr. Cloy sprays trees on
their property near his fence line. "I don't like to get
kamikazed," he said.
Now a state entomologist is holding up the Cloys as an example
of what landowners can do to protect trees from the beetles'
attack. Dave Leatherman, who visited the couple Thursday,
said: "No one is going to stop the ips on a regional scale.
You have to put your trees on life support and ride it (infestation)
Life support, Leatherman said, means watering when possible,
spraying uninfested trees, correctly removing and disposing
of dead trees and thinning piñon stands, which gives the
remaining trees a better chance of survival.
Leatherman was in Mancos to join foresters, arborists and
suppliers and applicators of chemical sprays in a public
forum Thursday evening. The goal was to update the public
on the ips infestation and explain what can be done to combat
The ips beetle, about the size of a grain of rice, is creating
havoc across the West, Leatherman said during a tour of the
"We have 4.2 million acres of piñons in Colorado and about
40 percent of them are infested with ips to some degree," he
said. In Colorado, the Southwest and the Front Range from
Colorado Springs through Cañon City to Trinidad have been
the hardest hit, Leatherman said. But the ips now is putting
in an appearance in Grand Junction.
"Probably no one alive has seen such an infestation of ips
beetles in Colorado," he said. "But we're the tip of the
iceberg." The infestation extends to California through the
Southwest, including New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Nevada.
An Oct. 9 article in the Albuquerque Tribune said that the
current level of ips infestation in New Mexico hasn't been
seen since the 1950s.
The drought is the root cause of ips infestations, Leatherman
said. Without water, trees can't produce the pitch or sap
that push out invading ips as they bore into a tree.
"Pitch is the tree's natural defense," Leatherman said. "The
ips is not aggressive, so it needs a pre-disposing factor
such as stress caused by drought."
Fire suppression has contributed to the severity of ips
infestations by thwarting nature's way of thinning forests,
Leatherman said. Without periodic wildfires, forests become
overcrowded. Competing for sunlight, water and nutrients,
trees are more vulnerable to infestations.
Leatherman pointed to a pitch tube, a tiny protuberance
on the bark of a dead piñon indicating where a beetle had
bored into it.
"This is where a male with his harem of maybe three females
will spend the winter," Leatherman said. "Around April, the
eggs will hatch, followed by the larva, pupa and adult stages."
With a hatchet, Leatherman removed a section of bark to
reveal an ips beetle scurrying for cover. When they emerge
in the spring, young adult ips start looking for green trees,
Leatherman said. A new generation will emerge about every
two months, he said.
While ips beetles generally pack it in for the winter in
November, there could be another generation in flight soon
if the warm weather holds, Leatherman said.
Back to top
"Slurry System Protects
By Tom Sluis
La Plata County residents seeking to fireproof their homes
have one more weapon available with the introduction of slurry
spraying machines available through a Mancos-based company.
For about $1,700, Fire Ready sells a pressurized tank filled
with 120 gallons of the same fire retardant used by US Forest
Service air tankers - enough to cover a 3,000-square-foot
home. The slurry is sprayed with a 100-foot hose operated
manually. Automatic operation through permanently installed
tubes on a home is also available.
Although innovative, the device is just one part of complete
fire-mitigation efforts, said Kristie Borchers, co-owner
with husband Ryan, of Fire Ready, which sells the device. "If
you don't do any mitigation work around your home, you will
still have a blackened landscape," she said. But at least
you will have a house.
The product is manufactured by a company in Sisters, Oregon,
called FireBreak Spray Systems, run by ex-football professional
Stan Brock and chemist Jim Aamodt, who created the misting
systems used in grocery stores nationwide to keep produce
"What we wanted was a way for homeowners to essentially
have an aerial bomber on call ready to dump on a house," said
Brock, who played for the New Orleans Saints and the San
Diego Chargers. On Friday, Brock said buildings sprayed with
the retardant near Sisters are in the path of one blaze and
may be undergoing a trial by fire, literally.
Unlike the slurry dropped from the air, however, the retardant
for homes is not dyed red. It lasts until washed off or the
next rain arrives, and since it is fertilizer-based, it is
Other fire-resistant products are on the market such as
gels or foams, but don't offer protection for as long as
the slurry, which dries on the sprayed surfaces, Borchers
said. "One concern with barrier products such as foams or
gels is that people may get a false sense of security and
try to stay and fight a fire when they should be evacuating."
In Southwest Colorado, Fire Ready uses L&L Construction
based in Cortez for the installation. Jim and Linda Workman
are also selling the systems in Cortez.
"It's a sexy little product," Borchers said. "For folks
who own second homes, the unit can be activated from anywhere
in the world with just a phone call." These high-end installations,
however, can cost up to $10,000. Interest has been very high
since the product was announced, Brock said. "We are starting
to meet with developers to install the systems in new homes," he
said. "With the phone technology, it is possible for a local
fire chief to simply dial a number and trigger the systems."
No electricity is needed to remotely trigger the system
since it has backup batteries, but a downed phone line is
the system's Achilles' heel, Brock said. "We do offer a satellite
phone option, however," he said.
Back to top
for Homes Comes to Colorado"
By Electa Draper
MANCOS - Homeowners can use the same weapon against fire
that the Forest Service has used to save thousands of homes
and millions of acres - minus the air tankers and red dye.
Designer slurry for homes is here.
The man who invented misting systems for grocery produce
teamed with a former National Football League and University
of Colorado player to tackle the threat of catastrophic fires
to woodland homes.
About two years ago, grocery-store innovator Jim Aamodt
and former CU Buffalo and San Diego Charger Stan Brock began
marketing home-slurry sprinklers through Firebreak Spray
A system can coat the outside of a house and its landscaping
with a nontoxic, water-soluble fire retardant identical to
what the Forest Service uses, except that it is colorless.
Last week near Sisters, Oregon, Aamodt and Brock worked feverishly
behind the lines at evacuated Camp Sherman, which was menaced
by a 45,000-acre fire.
"We were actually just finishing up some installations," Aamadt
said over his cellphone. His motivation in developing Firebreak,
he said, was the ownership of his own woodland house in The
Dalles, Oregon. "I thought to myself when I bought it, â€˜How
am I ever going to protect this house?'"
The answer, he said, was the marriage of his produce-misting
work and decades of Forest Service know-how. His slurry sprays
recently became available around Colorado, through Cortez-based
L&L Construction and Mancos-based Fire Ready, a fire-mitigation
service. Fire Ready also has franchises in Boulder, Pagosa
Springs, Telluride, and Fort Collins.
Firebreak systems can be a simple hand-held sprayer or as
elaborate as needed with multiple tanks. Prices range from
about $1,750 to $10,000. Unlike gels and foams now in use,
effective for about eight house before they slide off, Aamodt
said, the nonstaining slurry mixture stays on a home or vegetation.
It retards flames until washed off by hose or rain.
The systems are self-contained. No power or fuel is needed
to propel the slurry. Pressurized nitrogen tanks spew it.
The system can be activated at the site or remotely by calling
the system on the phone and entering a code.
Back to top
"Fending Off the Flames"
"Nederland startup aims to help
homeowners prepare for wildfires"
Boulder Daily Camera
By J. Adrian Stanley, for the Camera
A new Boulder fire mitigation company hopes to prepare local
homeowners for another Colorado summer. Fire Ready, which
opened a new location in Nederland in February, appeared
on the heels of the worst summer for wildfires Colorado has
The new owners, Jennipher Murphy and Darren Stepanik, said
they are not looking to gain off the losses of last year;
they just want to help Boulder County citizens protect their
properties and themselves. "We don't really want to work
off the panic mode," Murphy said.
But the wildfires of last summer have opened the eyes of
many homeowners, Stepanik said. "It's all coming down to
awareness, people are pretty much forced to become aware
when there's a forest fire," he said.
Boulder Fire Ready is the latest location of the company
that began in Durango under the same name in 2001. The Durango
company has quadrupled its business since opening and is
now doing mitigation year-round. Recently, the company introduced
a line of products to help consumers protect their homes
The Durango Fire Ready had 75 clients in the area of Durango
where citizens were evacuated for fire last year. All the
homes, including two the fire directly passed over, survived.
Justin Dombrowski, of the Boulder Fire Department, said
wildfire mitigation has experienced growth since last year. "After
a year like last year ... you see a spike in interest," he
Dombrowski urged consumers to research their mitigation
officers and look at other preventive measures to work in
conjunction with mitigation. "Mitigation is an important
step, but it's one of a few important steps," he said.
Murphy and Stepanik began their busiest season with three
employees. They plan to hire more help as needed. They bought
all new equipment, including a large capacity chipper. The
two said jobs can take a while to complete depending on the
size of property and what level of mitigation is performed.
Some people choose to do more extensive mitigation than others.
Essentially, mitigation creates a defense barrier, or several
defense barriers around a property. The barrier is achieved
by clearing what mitigation officers and firefighters call "fuel" or
small trees, brush and debris. This low-lying vegetation
can help fire climb trees. Mitigation also involves clearing
some trees and other flammable items close to the home.
Many people find mitigation unappealing because they believe
it will upset the beauty of the forest surrounding their
home. Murphy and Stepanik said they believe mitigation can
help beautify a home by opening up views of mountains and
wildlife. Mitigation also increases property values.Murphy
and Stepanik said mitigation does not mean clear cutting;
groups of trees are left standing, so long as they are far
enough apart to keep fire from spreading through tree-tops.
"If a tree does not have to come out; it will not come out," Stepanik
Prices range for fire mitigation depending on the amount
and intensity of work done. Although mitigation can be pricey,
Stepanik said he believes it is worth the cost. "When it
comes to protecting your most valuable asset it's a small
price to pay," he said.
Although Stepanik said homeowners could do fire mitigation
themselves, he explained that it is very labor-intensive
to do so. Skills also come into mitigation, especially when
falling trees close to a house. A tree falling on a roof
could destroy the very property an owner is trying to protect.
Wildfires are not as uncommon as many might assume. Dombrowski
said that although firefighters are not expecting as heavy
of a season for fires as they had last year; they are expecting
fires. In fact, he said, wildfires have been reported almost
on a daily basis. These fires have been extinguished before
they could grow.
Back to top
Epidemic: Seek Treatments, Hope for Best"
Pagosa Springs SUN (Pagosa Springs, CO)
By Tom Carosello
They are mere millimeters in size but number in the millions,
and the effects of their destructive infestation across a
huge swath of southwestern Colorado have become more and
more visible with the passing of each month.
Usually referred to as "bark beetles" or "engraver beetles," their
scientific namesakes include "ips confusus" and "ips calligraphus."
Although they are native to the area, in the past few years
a lingering drought has enabled the beetles to flourish disproportionately
and wreak havoc on weakened populations of pinon and ponderosa
After taking refuge in brownish dead and dying trees throughout
the winter months, they emerge when springtime temperatures
consistently climb into the 50 to 60-degree range to seek
out new breeding grounds.
And they have staked a claim in Pagosa Country.
Their arrival has not gone without notice, however, and
Chimney Rock Archaeological Area provided the setting this
week for the latest in a series of regional battles pitting
the ravenous insects against humans.
"It's a huge problem," says Glen Raby, Chimney Rock site
manager. "They're into stands of ponderosa and pinon at several
locations within the area."
In an effort to curb the spread of the beetle epidemic,
said Raby, a state-licensed applicator sprayed the largest
and healthiest of the area's trees with carbaryl, an insecticide
which is also commonly known as sevin.
Raby indicated the treatment is aimed at saving what the
Pagosa Ranger District referred to as "the most aesthetically
pleasing trees at the site" while reducing the potential
hazards resulting from the beetles' continued onslaught.
One such threat is the increased risk of infected trees
serving as the catalyst for wildfire, since they become tinder
dry after dying and remain so for many years before decay
"We're just trying to treat groups of trees that haven't
been infected yet and hope for the best," said Raby, who
added a second spraying will be scheduled for later this
The beetles can reproduce at a rate of 2-4 generations per
year under the proper conditions, and according to the ranger
district, only a sharp decrease in average winter temperatures
or a prolonged period of wet weather will help slow their
Symptoms of beetle infestation include small round holes
in the trees' bark and a yellowish to reddish-brown dust
accumulating in crevices or at the bases of the trees. Another
indication of infection is an increase in the number of woodpeckers
becoming attracted to the trees and stripping the bark to
get at the beetles.
While there are currently no effective remedies for trees
that are already infected with the insects, Raby said the
same treatment services used at Chimney Rock are available
to the public.
"For safety purposes, I think it's probably better to use
someone who is licensed," said Raby. "It's not something
you want to mess with if you are not sure exactly how to
For those who are willing to tackle the problem by themselves,
the following is a list of suggestions provided by the Colorado
State University Cooperative Extension:
No chemical treatment exists for trees already infested by
the beetles. In rare cases where it is feasible to reduce the
threat to live trees by killing beetles before they exit, treatments
involve bark removal, chipping the wood into small pieces,
covering piles with a double layer of 6-millimeter thick clear
plastic sealed around the edges with soil to heat the wood,
or physical removal of infested material from the site to an
area a mile or more from susceptible trees.
- Obtain an insecticide containing either permethrin of
carbaryl (sevin) and follow the manufacturer's recommendations
for the proper rate for bark beetle treatment.
- Promote vigorous tree growth by properly siting/spacing
trees in landscapes. Use adequate - but not excessive -
amounts of water thereafter.
- Do not store firewood or freshly-cut materials near susceptible
trees. Fresh branches and other green materials should
be chipped or treated so that the inner bark area is destroyed;
beetle larvae will not survive such measures.
Back to top
on Personal Responbility"
By Pam Johnson, Special to the Herald
We hired a fire mitigation company just one month prior
to the Missionary Ridge Fire burning through our property.
Had it not been for the excellent job that the crew performed,
we would not have a home or the surrounding trees today.
We were assured that we had a "defendable space" around
our home by the fire department and that if a fire came close
they would be there to protect it.
The reality is that they were not there. Nor was our home
foamed with fire retardant as all the others were in the
area. In addition, back-fires were set below our house, which
burned up toward us, in an effort to protect the houses below.
In spite of all this, our home was not touched by the fire.
In the areas cleared of ladder fuel the remaining trees also
I erected a sprinkler system on all four corners of our
house, and these sprinklers ran almost continuously for two
days prior to the fire burning through our property. However,
at the time of the fire, all electricity had been cut to
our area and the system was not on. The house, decking and
surrounding plants and grass were, however, well soaked.
I believe this also played a significant part in protecting
I could be bitter about the fact that nothing was done to
protect our home when we were assured that it would be. But
I can only assume that it was determined at the last minute
that our house was too isolated in the middle of old-growth
forest at the end of a steep ¾-mile road to risk the lives
of our young firefighters.
Knowing all of this, it is all the more important that we
did the fire mitigation and took steps to do what we could
as responsible home and property owners to protect our own.
It is not right to expect others to put their lives at risk
when you have done nothing to prote3ct your property. And
while insurance may replace the structure and other property
that you have lost, it cannot replace the mature trees that
Our home stands today, still surrounded by our beautiful
mature trees, because we did the right thing
(Pam Johnson is a property owner near Durango, Colorado.
Fire Ready performed mitigation on her property.)
Back to top
"Ready for Fire"
Building America Magazine, Spring
Published in the Archuleta County and Four Corners editions
The sound of a chainsaw breaks the stillness of a too-warm
January morning. But the trees coming down are black, not
green. The work being done today is not fire prevention,
but fire rehabilitation and soil stabilization. Fortunately
for this property owner, the crew is working on the outer
edges of the property near Helen's Store. "We've been here
before - doing mitigation work in that area over there," said
foreman Jon Borchers, pointing towards the house. Extensive
mitigation work was done around the home and in the surrounding
forest just weeks before the Missionary Ridge Fire wrecked
havoc on the hillsides. A raging treetop fire devoured the
landscape around this ranch, while the home and mitigated
areas were untouched by fire. The defensible space acted
exactly as intended - the fire dropped to the ground and
smoldered in the wood-chips left from mitigation work.
Nearly 1.3 million Colorado residents live in high wildfire
risk areas. Predictions of a prolonged drought cycle, coupled
with dense forests, increase the likelihood of catastrophic
wildfires. Historically, Colorado forests burned regularly.
Slow burning ground fires periodically cleaned the forest
of brush, leaving larger trees and open areas. A century
ago, ponderosa pine forests contained 25 to 60 stems per
acre. In many areas, these same forests today are supporting
well over 275 stems per acre. The overabundance of fuel and
stands of same-age trees are results of fire suppression
and past logging practices.
Western droughts are common. In past conditions, trees could
survive drought. However, in dense forests where too many
trees are competing for limited nutrients and sunlight, the
weaker trees can no longer withstand the lack of water and
are more susceptible to catastrophic wildfires and insect
infestations. The number of homes and communities within
forested areas has skyrocketed. Today's wildfires burn hotter,
are dangerous to fight, and are destructive to personal property
and the natural landscape.
Homes may ignite during a wildfire in three ways - by direct
flame contact, through radiant heat transfer, or when burning
embers land on a roof or a deck. Burning embers can travel
miles in front of the main fire, often igniting spot fires.
Proactively reduce your wildfire risk:
- Consider wildfire hazards when choosing a building site.
- Use fire-resistant construction materials, especially
for the roof.
- Thin and remove hazardous vegetation surrounding the
- Develop emergency water supplies.
- Annually prepare for fire season.
- Talk to your neighbors about reducing wildfire risk.
Defensible space is a circle of protection around a home
or structure where forest fuels have been modified. A common
misconception is that "defensible space" means "clear cutting." Removing
all trees and vegetation is not necessary to protect homes
and property from wildfire, nor is it advised for aesthetic
and soil erosion reasons.
By thinning the weak, dead, and over-crowded trees, islands
or pockets of vegetation are created and the continuous canopy
is broken - creating firebreaks that can slow or stop a fire's
spread. Vegetation that can transport fire to the treetops
(called ladder fuels) should also be removed. The remaining
slash should be chipped, burned, or hauled. The dimensions
of defensible space around a given home depend on topography,
vegetation type, construction materials used in the structures,
and how a fire might behave in the area. This work will not
only reduce wildfire risk, but also increases property value,
improves scenic views and access, and improves the health
of the remaining forest.
New Construction Considerations
Choose a building site with respect to wildfire hazards - build
in flat areas set back from steep slopes. Avoid building
in gullies since they can act like a chimney - increasing
fire behavior and intensity. Have the Colorado State Forest
Service or local fire department evaluate potential locations.
Defensible space is as important to your home as a solid
foundation. In new construction, it is usually less expensive
to create defensible space after the driveway access has
been constructed, but before the home has been built. Consider
incorporating a circular drive with a large enough turning
radius to accommodate fire trucks and other emergency vehicles.
Evaluate Existing Structures
Create defensible space around your existing home by thinning
out the vegetation and removing ladder fuels. The size of
defensible space varies by site. Defensible space needs to
be extended in down-sloping areas. Focus mitigation efforts
in areas of prevailing winds and where the potential for
ignition is highest, such as along roads.
Once a primary defensible space protects your home, consider
working outward in a secondary zone to protect your forest.
Thinning efforts surrounding the defensible space will further
reduce the threat of radiant heat and after the fire passes,
will leave more green trees. Stay on top of forest growth
with annual maintenance.
Subdivisions at High Risk
Subdivisions located in the wildland-urban interface are
at an increased risk to wildfire because of the density of
homes and limited access roads. Firefighting resources are
stretched thin during a wildfire event, especially when entire
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.
"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 all committed, it provides a much
greater protection during a wildfire event. Reducing wildfire
risk needs to be a concentrated, community effort," says
Dan Ochocki, Durango District Forester for the Colorado State
Consider forming a fire prevention committee that will evaluate
fire hazards and emergency access, mitigate common areas,
launch an awareness campaign for residents, and develop plans
for wildfire notification and evacuation.
Fire will remain a part of the natural landscape. Humans
and lightning will continue to ignite fires. The actions
we take on our private property will determine the intensity
of these fires - whether ground fires that are easier to
control, or catastrophic, treetop fires.
"I thought we had said good-bye to everything," said Jackie
Dzuibek. Defensible space saved her Los Ranchitos home from
the Missionary Ridge Fire.
For More Information
Colorado State Forest Service www.colostate.edu/Depts/CSFS/
Firewise Construction - Design and Materials
Fire-Resistant Landscaping, no. 6.303
Forest Home Fire Safety, no. 7.304
Firewise Plant Materials, no. 6.305
Fire Ready provides wildfire prevention services, including
defensible space creation. Visit us on-line at http://www.fireready.com/open.html Call
970-533-7078 in the Durango/Cortez area or
970-759-9380 in the Pagosa Springs area.
Back to top
Pagosa Springs SUN (Pagosa Springs,
By Tess Noel Baker
Last summer's Missionary Ridge, Valley and Million fires
licked a little too close to home for some. A pall of smoke
hung over Pagosa Springs for nearly a month and had people
asking, "What can I do to protect my home?" The answer: "Create
Pagosa Fire Protection District Chief Warren Grams said,
following the 2002 fires, district personnel performed between
200 and 300 defensible space property inspections. Through
such inspections, provided free by the district, residents
learn how to reduce the chances of fire stealing away their
homes by tree-trimming, cutting and cleanup.
Now that the fire season approaches once again and people
begin spring home improvement projects, local and state agencies
are working to remind everyone of the lessons of a year ago
through "Wildfire Prevention and Education Month" activities
planned in Archuleta, La Plata, San Juan and Montezuma counties.
As part of those activities, Grams took seven people on a
tour of Pagosa Springs, pointing out the good, the bad and
the ugly in local defensible space.
Ugly was first.
"We cannot defend this house," Grams said at the initial
stop on the tour. The house was built at the bottom of a
fairly steep slope and surrounded by dense groups of ponderosa
skirted by oak brush and other undergrowth. Trees crowded
up against the driveway. The undergrowth, plus the lower
branches of the ponderosa combined to create an environment
of ladder fuels that would simply pull a fire right up into
the crowns of the trees, Grams said. "If it gets up in the
crowns of the trees, nobody is going to stop it."
He also pointed out several problem homes built on ridgelines.
Problems with these include both fuels available for a fire
and access. Fire, he said, will generally move more quickly
uphill as the heat and flames rise, tearing through fuels
above them. That means thinning on steep slopes may have
to extend farther from a home to create the buffer needed
to control a fire or knock it to the ground.
Access to ridgelines for the large equipment is another
concern. Long, winding roadways with one or more tight switchbacks
may be fine for regular vehicles, but may or may not allow
fire tankers and pumpers enough room to maneuver in the best
conditions. Throw in mud or snow and it becomes near impossible
even with chains and four-wheel drive.
"I don't know if I can get a fire truck up there in February
with the snowpack," Grams said, pointing to one large home
perched on a long ridge. In at least one case, he said, because
of a home's distance from a fire hydrant, location and the
amount of foliage, the owners have been dropped from insurance
coverage, or bumped up to a much higher rate.
Sometimes, the additional costs have been enough to push
people to consider fire mitigation work on their property.
Others have decided to take up the labor on their own, or
have found state grant funds to help.
As a demonstration last summer, Grams said, the district
worked with private home owner Patty Sterling and the state
to get a 50/50 grant for mitigation work on her property
in the Meadows subdivision. Her home was the second stop
on the tour and the first example of property with good defensible
space. A home where fire could be kept low to the ground
and fought with a much better chance of success.
Branches on the mature pine trees had been trimmed up 10-12
feet from the ground, still leaving a few dead branches for
bird-roosting. Oak brush was cut back and trimmed into small
stands. The crowns of the trees were separated by a minimum
of 10-12 feet, except for a few clumps. Grams said it was
acceptable to leave a few clumps of trees for a more natural
look. The space from one clump to the next tree should be
even greater than the 10-12 feet recommended between crowns
of single trees to prevent the fire from getting a boost
from the larger area of fuels.
"If there was a wildfire in this area, we could come in here and foam this down
until you couldn't see anything but white foam and go on to the next one."
Grams said it takes about 15 minutes to completely cover
a home in fire-retardant foam, a high-dollar biodegradable
soap that helps protect the home for several hours.
Because of the state's budget crisis, he said, grant funds
could dry up this year. However, much of the work simply
takes muscle, patience and perseverance. Or a call to one
of several companies offering tree-thinning services in the
Karen Aspin and her husband, Bill, are working to create
defensible space on their 12 acres by themselves. They've
been at it now for two or three years and have quite a bit
of hillside to consider. To start, they asked Grams to come
look at the property and help them prioritize. Clearing trees
back from the driveway and away from the propane tank proved
to be the first order of business. From there, Aspin said,
they've moved on to the pine trees, removing ladder fuels
to make it more difficult for a fire to crown.
"We still have so much left to do but it's starting to look
beautiful, really park-like," she said.
Mitzy Forbes, educational multimedia specialist with the
Colorado State Forest Service, purchased a home in Pagosa
Springs in January. As soon as weatherpermitted, she and
friend Jonathan Steiner started a defensible space project
on the 2.6 acres, which includes a fairly steep slope. In
their case, state forester Dan Ochocki came out to inspect
the property, mark trees and set priorities. From there,
they got to work, using whatever time they had.
"I work from home, so I'd take an hour for lunch, some time
after my work day and weekends and head outside," Forbes
said. For clearing out the undergrowth and small stuff, she
used a basic pair of pruning shears. Steiner attacked the
bigger stuff, clearing out more than two dozen trees. To
finish the project, they hired a tree-trimming company to
come in, chip the smaller downed branches and remove four
additional trees leaning near the house. When finished, the
goal is to have healthier trees remaining, less competition
for water resources and a clear avenue for firefighters if
"Wildfire Prevention and Education Month" activities are
presented by the San Juan Mountains Association in partnership
with the Colorado State Forest Service, Durango Fire and
Rescue Authority, Firewise Program, local fire departments,
National Forest Foundation, Office of Community Services
at Fort Lewis College and the San Juan Public Lands Center.
Back to top
Mitigation Franchise Battles Fuel-laden Forest Danger
The Mountain Ear (Nederland,
By Barbara Lawlor
Not a single Fire Ready client lost their homes in the Missionary
Ridge Fire in Southwest Colorado, says Ryan Borchers, Fire
Ready, Inc. founder. "The fire came to the edges of the defensible
space surrounding Fire Ready homes. Unfortunately, nearby
homes without defensible spaces burned."
Borchers recommends that homeowners prepare now for another
intense fire season, and they have four offices in Colorado
to help mitigate that fire danger.
Fire Ready, Inc. is the nation's only franchisor of wildfire
prevention and protection services, and Big Springs residents
Darren Stepanik and Jennipher Murphy have opened an office
in Nederland, to serve Gilpin and Boulder counties.
Jennipher has lived in Big Springs for the past seven years
and has grown increasingly concerned about the fire danger
that has besieged mountain residents recently. She has been
in sales/management and serves on the Wild Bear Center for
Nature Discover board. She is the mother of two children
who worries about the fact that Big Springs would be a hard
to defend area if there were a wildfire.
"With so much fire danger, I began investigating how to
be a better homeowner, and ran across Fire Ready out of Durango.
I talked to them about starting a franchise in this area
and we partnered up. We now have offices in Telluride/Ridgway,
Pagosa Springs, Durango, and here.
"The advantage of being part of a franchise is the support
that is available from the other offices. I attended intensive
training in fire behavior and mitigation in Durango and have
worked on Forest Service land. Being a member of a franchise
is a team effort."
Jennipher says she is eager to begin work in the area to
create healthier forests. Even though there is fire danger,
she says homeowners can still have trees on their property
if the trees are located strategically.
The more she learned about fire mitigation, the more she
realized she needed a partner with on-site experience working
with crews. She met Darren Stepanik who works construction
and owns Tribal Fiber, which makes and imports hemp products.
The partners invested in equipment, pole pruners, chain saws,
and chippers, that can handle the tree width in the area,
and they expect to be ready for business in May, if the snow
melts, that is.
Darren says he has been looking for an opportunity to stay
closer to the mountains. "I recently worked in Fourmile Canyon,
and every day I noticed how thick the forest looked around
us. It is not a good situation. When Jen approached me, I
was interested. After doing some research, I became excited
that we had found something that will keep us both here."
The Fire Ready partners see their business as being a great
service to the area. Fire mitigation is fast becoming a necessary
chore for mountain dwellers. Darren says insurance will replace
your house, but not your home. Mitigation will also increase
your property value.
"There is a lot a homeowner can do, but a franchise can
call in extra crews and share information. We are locally
owned and we have a lot of flexibility, its not a cookie
Fire Ready's goal is to leave most of the material on the
property, by either chipping or stacking the wood. They have
no plans to sell the timber, they just want to focus on mitigation.
They will work with homeowners and not just tell them what
to do with their aesthetic values.
"It works," says Darren. "I have seen it work." Company
founder Ryan Borchers says, "This outlet will provide a valuable
service to area residents. We have found terrific partners
in Darren Stepanik and Jennipher Murphy of Nederland. They
are enthusiastic to properly educate owners and assist them
in protecting their property from a catastrophic wildfire
Back to top
National Public Radio story by KSUT reporter
Foresight Saves Durango
By Electa Draper, Denver Post Four Corners Bureau
Many of those who live in Los Ranchitos are still amazed
their houses are standing.
Last year's catastrophic Missionary Ridge fire roared through
the thick woods and nibbled at the edges of this mountainside
subdivision. Unlike neighboring settlements, though, Los
Ranchitos made it through without losing one of its 33 houses.
Residents can, in large part, thank themselves.
Long before the firestorm, the people of Los Ranchitos had
done something that was almost as unusual as it was smart,
according to Colorado State Forest Service forester Dan Ochocki.
Residents asked Ochocki to assess the health of their forest.
Rarer still, they listened and took action when he told them
back in 2001 to get rid of some trees and brush - something
fire-prone neighborhoods throughout Colorado should do, he
Los Ranchitos homeowner Aurora Rose says she remembers her
fateful conversation with Ochocki: "He took a deep breath
and said, 'If I were you, I'd really be worried about fire."'
So she and her husband, George, and neighbor Lynn Sutherland,
formed a fire prevention committee to explore a subdivisionwide
approach, including tree-thinning and evacuation plans.
"More and more people started jumping in," Aurora Rose says. Eventually, about
two-thirds of the property owners participated.
The group got a 50-50 matching grant for $12,000. Such federal
grants are available through the state Forest Service for
landowners and for some subdivisions where enough homeowners
agree to participate in thinning.
However, the competition for grants is stiffening as awareness
increases, Ochocki says.
"I wouldn't want anyone to wait or count on government help to do the right thing
for their property," Ochocki says.
For fiscal year 2002-03, southwestern Colorado property owners
received $54,700 of a $2.4 million statewide pool, Colorado
State Forest Service Fire Division supervisor Rich Homann
says. Homann, like Ochocki, urges homeowners not to rely
This year's fire season is looking as if it could be as bad
as, if not worse than, last year's. In the Four Corners,
in addition to the danger from drought, a beetle infestation
has killed countless pinon trees over millions of acres,
leaving the forests more susceptible than ever.
At Los Ranchitos, residents' efforts were eerily prescient.
The systematic and scientific thinning of the subdivision's
plant growth and trees, carried out by a new company called
Fire Ready, began in the summer of 2001 and was resumed the
next spring. The last bit of work was done the day before
the eruption of the region's worst fire in history, the 70,000-
acre Missionary Ridge fire.
Four days later, as flames spread closer to Los Ranchitos
and several subdivisions along Florida Road just east of
Durango, residents were told at a public meeting with firefighters
that the blaze was heading their way and would be on their
doorsteps in four or five days, Rose says.
The fire arrived within two hours.
"My neighbor was running through the cul-de-sac with one shoe on and one shoe
off," announcing the inferno's advance, Rose says. "I saw trees exploding down
the canyon. When we drove away I was crying. I told my husband we'd never see
our house again."
Ryan Borchers, founder and co- owner of Fire Ready, drove
to the subdivision where he had been so busy and saw flames
licking the top of the ridge. A firefighting veteran of 12
years before his switch to fire mitigation, he knew he was
about to find out if he had done his job.
He watched the fire race through thick stands of timber toward
Los Ranchitos. It hit the border of the subdivision - and
lost its intensity.
"It works," he said to himself.
Much of the ground litter was gone. Bushes and low tree branches,
or so-called ladder fuels that link ground and treetops,
were much sparser. The crowns of trees were far enough apart
to thwart the fire's feeding frenzy.
Almost 50 Durango-area houses ultimately burned in the fire;
statewide, blazes consumed 384 homes in 2002.
"There are a good number of us who feel that without Ryan our homes would not
have survived," Rose says.
The Durango business Borchers runs with his wife, Kristi,
has grown in three years to include franchises in Pagosa
Springs, Boulder and Telluride. Similar companies, such as
Timber Tech and Fire Smart, have sprung up.
Bids for clearing work vary according to growth and terrain
around homes, but generally a Fire Ready 12-person crew's
rate is $1,200 a day. That could be enough time to help safeguard
a 1- to 2-acre lot.
During the Missionary Ridge fire, Fire Ready got 25 calls
a day to create defensible space, Kristi Borchers says. As
soon as firefighters contained the blaze, many people called
"That was pretty short-sighted," she says. "Most people don't start calling until
the fires are burning."
Back to top