Improve Fire Prevention and Suppression Reduce Hazardous FuelsRestore Fire Adapted Ecosystems Promote Community AssistanceSummary


WGA Goal - Improve Fire Prevention and Suppression

Actions to meet goal

  • Improve firefighting capability/readiness to protect communities and the environment
  • Reduce incidence of injury to life and property resulting from catastrophic wildland fire
  • Expand outreach and education to homeowners
  • Develop a consistent preparedness model among partners

Wildfire Suppression Response

Most of Boulder County is served by Fire Protection Districts and/or individual municipal Fire Departments. Many of the districts are staffed wholly by volunteers. Boulder County Dispatch coordinates the first response to a fire. The Annual Operating Plan (AOP) spells out who is responsible for what during a wildfire. Due to the very mixed ownership, there is often a need for the USFS to respond. Previously, the USFS had significantly utilized local Fire Protection Districts and Volunteer Fire Departments for their suppression needs. Increasingly, the USFS has been filling their own suppression needs. According to the local USFS Fire Management Officer and local fire districts, this has created some dissatisfaction with current working agreements about jurisdiction and reciprocal agreements among local and federal fire agencies, departments and districts.

In Boulder County the Sheriff's Department has its own wildfire suppression and mitigation crew, the Boulder County Wildland Task Force. The BCWTF is comprised of Cherryvale Fire Protection District, City of Boulder Wildland Division, Boulder Rural Fire Protection District, and Boulder Mountain Fire Authority. These are all paid, well-trained and qualified firefighters that respond as a unit. They can make up a short to full hand crew at a Type II to Type I level to provide rapid initial attack response for wildfire. Either the fire incident manager or County Emergency Services must request them. The Sheriff's Department of Emergency Services is responsible for the coordination and supervision of the BCWTF.

The Boulder County Fire Fighter's Association is an interagency group comprised of 35-40 suppression players including county fire protection districts, fire departments, city fire departments, county emergency services, CSFS and USFS. For 20 years the BCFFA has been meeting on a monthly basis. The Boulder County Fire Fighter's Association provides training for all agencies. The Boulder County Wildland Fire Task Force is a subset of the Boulder County Fire Fighters Association and they meet sporadically. BCWTF provides National Wildfire Coordination Group (NWCG) training for all agencies once a year.

Boulder County Office of Emergency Management (OEM), funded and staffed jointly by the Boulder County Sheriff and City of Boulder, coordinates the activities of volunteer, public and private agencies in emergency planning, mobilizing, and direction of emergency preparedness personnel in response to and recovery from disasters or emergencies, including wildfire. The Emergency Operations Plan delineates task assignments and responsibilities for the operational actions that will be taken prior to, during, and following an emergency or disaster affecting local government to alleviate suffering, save lives and protect property. OEM has the 911-call back system to notify the public of evacuations or potential threat. They have had this system since 2000.

Boulder County Wildfire Mitigation Group

The Boulder County Wildfire Mitigation Group (BCWMG) was formed in 1989, shortly after the Black Tiger Fire destroyed 44 homes and burned 2,100 mountain forest acres in the Sugarloaf area just five miles from the city of Boulder. In 1990, under a mandate from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the agencies and individuals involved in the Black Tiger Fire produced a report through the National Fire Protection Association. Soon after, at the directive of the Board of County Commissioners, those same agencies and individuals formed the BCWMG. Its mission was to facilitate communication between all parties with an interest in wildfire mitigation; to coordinate actions amongst the parties that could help minimize loss of life and property from future wildfires; and to act cooperatively in addressing the issues by working together in effective partnerships. BCWMG meets every three months to discuss, strategize and plan wildfire mitigation efforts.

The Boulder County Wildfire Mitigation Coordinator, in the County Land Use Department, heads BCWMG. The other partners are members from the County Commissioners, Boulder County Open Space & Mountain Parks, Sheriff's Department, Boulder County Firefighters Association/various local Fire Protection Districts, CSFS, USFS, National Park Service (NPS), City of Boulder Fire Department, American Red Cross, forestry contractors and consultants, representatives from the insurance and real estate industry, and private landowners and home associations.

Since its inception, BCWMG and its various committees and work groups have been recognized for its interagency approach. Projects that BCWMG have undertaken include: development of a Wildfire Hazard Identification and Mitigation System (WHIMS) in 1991 for mapping fire hazards; support for the Boulder County Ecosystem Cooperative fire mitigation/forest health/restoration projects, such as the Winiger Ridge Ecosystem Pilot Project; developing mitigation grants to assist homeowner associations and fire districts with their fire mitigation efforts; creation of the Boulder County Chipping Program to subsidize costs of chipping and to aid in slash collection and disposal; coordinating prescribed fire programs amongst the various fire management entities within Boulder County (Boulder County Wildfire Cooperators); education and outreach programs; supporting fuel reduction work through the use of fire mitigation crews and AmeriCorps crews; assists in Land Use Reviews and Urban/Wildland Interface Code development to encourage FireWise development; installation of Fire Danger Rating Signs at the entrance of major canyons.

Colorado State Forest Service Suppression Efforts

Allen Owen, District Forester with Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS), is the local fire management officer and grant administrator for various suppression efforts and activities. Within Boulder County, Owen has at his disposal 600 red carded fire fighters, 19 fire departments that have cooperative resource agreements and 11 fire engines. "I think we have some of the best educated, well-equipped wildland firefighters in the western U.S. right here in Boulder County," says Owen. With the expertise in Boulder County alone they have many personnel qualified at the Type II level, and are able to field a Type III incident management team. There is great cooperation among all agencies including the county and federal entities. "We play well together, better than most," says Owen. CSFS involvement in suppression includes fire fighting, interagency fire training, firefighter certification, and fire vehicle replacement and inspections. Owen has developed National Wildfire Coordinating Group training programs for all the fire departments and the Boulder Fire Academy that trains 80-100 fire fighters every year. All of the red-carded fire fighters have full personal protective equipment. Owen acts like a mini dispatch center during fire season with the 19 fire departments. The CSFS Fire Equipment Shop provides mechanical support to rural fire departments, local, county, state and federal cooperators by developing, fabricating, repairing, and maintaining fire equipment. Excess military equipment is converted by the Fire Equipment Shop into fire engines that provide fire departments with fire protection they would not otherwise be able to afford.


Cherryvale Fire Protection District

Cherryvale Fire Protection District began in 1958 and services about 55 square miles around the City of Boulder, Superior/Rock Creek and Flagstaff Mountain. They are staffed by a combination of career and volunteer members who are state certified to handle diverse emergency calls. The district is unique in that it has its own Wildland Crew and a Wildland Fire Coordinator. Cherryvale Fire was the first fire (non-Fed or State) agency in Colorado to initiate, dedicate funds, and actually conduct a full time Wildland Fire Mitigation Program. Other agencies now have these, but Cherryvale was the first to have a crew in 1997, and at the time were one of a handful of fire districts/departments in the country to do this type of work at no additional cost to the homeowners other than the taxes they already paid. They currently cut more board feet of timber a year then the USFS Boulder Ranger District, and the City of Boulder OP&MP and come close to prescription fire acres burned annually. All of the major mitigation organizations in Boulder County have needed to use Cherryvale's mitigation crew to complete their own projects. In 1984, Cherryvale adopted its first fire code. The primary interest was to evaluate fire and life safety hazards within the district. Primarily the code enforcement revolves around new construction, commercial, retail, and school occupancies. The Fire Marshall must approve all new commercial, multi-family, and new residential development plans. Adherence to all fire and safety measures is required before construction commences.

Cherryvale has designed and built three wildland engines, bringing their total to five wildland specific vehicles. They have compiled vast amounts of information on the wildlands and forests within the district and have maps that detail the fuel types and densities. These maps coupled with the Wildfire Hazards Identification and Mitigation Survey, (WHIMS), maps help them decide which homes are defendable, based on current and predicted fire conditions.

Cherryvale has a mountain properties wildfire mitigation program. The goal of the Cherryvale Fire Protection District's Mitigation Crew is to provide rapid and effective initial structural and wildland fire suppression, emergency medical service, and reduce wildfire exposure to the citizens and their property through mitigation techniques. Cherryvale Fire, in conjunction with CSFS and Boulder County Land Use Department, has conducted studies on each home in the Flagstaff area. Each home was analyzed for its ability to resist ignition from a wildfire. Additionally, every acre of wildland was surveyed and mapped to determine specific composition, forest litter orientation, and total volume of forest floor residue. The Wildland Crew and the property owner together develop a plan to mitigate homes of wildfire hazards. Cherryvale also does public education and outreach efforts regarding wildfire. Because of Cherryvale's mitigation efforts, Flagstaff Mountain has been the most proactive community in Boulder County with wildfire mitigation efforts.

The Cherryvale fire district is supported solely through a special 8.326-mil tax assessed to the constituents of the district. This equates to $100 per $100,000 assessed property value. The taxing district was created in 1978 and the mitigation crew started in 1997. Because all property owners are assessed, any property owner in their mountain communities can request defensible space work as well as prescribed fire work on their properties at no additional cost. Since 1997 they have created approximately 80 defensible spaces out of 210 homes in the Flagstaff mountain community. The mitigation crew has evolved into a wildland fire crew that concentrates on suppression during fire season and mitigation work during the other months. While their work is dedicated to their district, they also play an integral role in most of the prescribed fire activities in the county. Since 1997, Cherryvale has treated between 200-300 acres in the Cherryvale Fire District with the majority of the work being prescribed fire. Average cost per acres ranges from $700-800.


Rocky Mountain Helitack

In August 2001, the City of Boulder Department of Public Works Utilities Division launched a prototype air support program to protect the city's water supplies from significant wildland fire effects. Boulder Fire & Rescue Wildland Fire Division Chief Marc Mullenix and Chief Tomboloto of Cherryvale Fire Protection District recommended a helicopter approach as the only efficient way to overcome problems such as accessibility to difficult terrain, extended response time to remote areas, and the mixture of jurisdictions. In 2003, the City of Boulder and Cherryvale took over the operations and management of RMH. Regional requests within Boulder County are made through the Emergency Services division of the Sheriff's Department to the Boulder Regional Communications Center. Resource requests from outside Boulder County are made through the appropriate interagency dispatch center. RMH supplements the federal aviation resources available both within the State of Colorado and the state's single-engine air tanker program.


Boulder County Wildfire Mitigation Specialist

In 1994, Boulder County Board of County Commissioners created the Wildfire Mitigation Specialist position. The position is located in the County Land Use Department as a result of advocacy by the Long Range Planner and the Boulder County Chief Building Official, both of whom were located in the Land Use Department. The position is designed to function as an interagency liaison between Boulder County and various local, state and nation-wide entities with local interest in wildfire mitigation. The main duties for the position are public outreach and wildfire mitigation education, including working with homeowner associations and fire districts doing mitigation education programs, and running the chipping and slash programs. Other official duties include providing information to County staff on wildfire mitigation matters, assisting county staff, coordinating the Boulder County Wildfire Mitigation Group, helping the local fire protection districts in the coordination and implementation of wildland fire education programs assisting with forest management, building code adoption and enforcement, and the Land Use Site Plan Review processes with respect to wildfire considerations.


Red Cross

Since August 2003, Red Cross has completed 205 home wildfire risk assessments in Boulder County. The Red Cross is working with CSFS, the Student Conservation Association, and Boulder County Land Use in a partnership effort to educate homeowners regarding wildfire mitigation. Sometimes this is setting up a table at an event to talk to people, other times they organize community meetings. They also go door-to-door in neighborhoods in the interface to talk to people and offer to do a homesite assessment. CSFS, SCA, USFS and others helped Red Cross train the volunteers to assist with this project.

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