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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

The Durango Fire and Rescue Authority (DFRA)

The Durango Fire and Rescue Authority (DFRA) has a total of 55 paid employees, including administrative staff and about 120 volunteers. They cover 385 square miles. DFRA has a good cooperative arrangement with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) on fire attacks. DFRA has been proactive in its outreach to homeowners and subdivisions. They work in conjunction with Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) to go out to subdivisions and meet homeowners. The cooperative aspect, both with CSFS and USFS, makes La Plata County unique in the context of Colorado, according to Allan Clay, Assistant Fire Chief.

Targeting Subdivisions Through Wildfire Mitigation Plans

DFRA has found it more effective to target subdivisions and homes where they can engage people one-on-one, instead of group settings such as a fair or show. DFRA has been visiting homes and subdivisions since 1993. DFRA also has been engaged in wildfire mitigation plan reviews. If a developer wants to come in and build a subdivision, or an individual wants to build a home in the county wildland urban interface, DFRA has the opportunity to review and make recommendations on the wildfire mitigation plan. Generally, DFRA asks for mitigation in terms of defensible space, road widths, driving surfaces for the fire fighting equipment, etc… Some subdivision developers now are creating defensible space on property before they put the lots up for sale. They clear out the unhealthy trees and leave the good ones. The developers are finding they can sell the lots more quickly and for more money because of the defensible space.

In neighboring Archuleta County, subdivisions are required to follow CSFS recommendations for wildfire mitigation plans. Archuleta County has been more open to these requirements because of the recent growth and new people moving in. According to Dan Ochocki, Durango District Forester, "There isn't much we can do about existing subdivisions, but we'd better not be creating new problems." Montezuma County now requires hazardous fuels mitigation assessment and planning on any subdivision before it is approved by the County Commissioner. Since it is impossible to go back to require existing subdivisions to do this work, Montezuma County is considering placing plaques at the end of defensible space driveways noting that the property is defensible for fire fighting.

La Plata County Emergency Management (EM)

La Plata County Emergency Management (EM) has engaged in a number of activities to reduce incidence of injury to life and property resulting from catastrophic wildland fire. La Plata County borrowed a reverse 911 system from Boulder County for the Missionary Ridge Fire. Since then, La Plata County has purchased its own reverse 911 unit, which is operational and serves all of La Plata County except the far southeast corner which is on a different telephone system. The county has installed 12 rain hooked up to a computerized system to warn about erosion, flooding and slide hazards. EM has placed flood hazard warning that can flash with a call from a cell phone and will close roads. The county works very closely with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather forecasters. A consortium in La Plata County funded a transmitter that provides specific weather information on the La Plata County. Properly-equipped Emergency Management can press a button and call all radios to notify of pending disaster.

Community Outreach

Web site

Four education and outreach efforts have been implemented from the La Plata County Fire Plan (LPCFP). A web site, titled Southwest Colorado Information Clearinghouse, was established after the Missionary Ridge and Valley fires. The goal is to inform citizens, government agencies, and leaders, about current efforts to prevent unwanted damage from wildfire on private and public lands. The web site also an information center about on-going efforts to rehabilitate the land in the aftermath of the Missionary Ridge and Valley fires. The site was funded by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) through National Fire Plan money.

Community Wildfire Information Series

OCS, CSFS and SJPLC sponsored the Community Wildfire Information Series, which consisted of a series of 25 articles in local newspapers, e.g. Durango Newspapers and Cortez Journal. The articles are designed to provide timely information regarding the prevention of wildfires and the rehabilitation and recovery from the fires in 2002. The articles dealt with policy issues, success stories, Ips beetle infestation, etc.

Wildfire Prevention and Education Month

San Juan Mountains Association (SJMA), OCS, CSFS, DFRA, and SJPLC FIREWISE Monthplanned the Wildfire Prevention and Education Month (April 2003). This month long effort promoted awareness and educated residents about risks of wildfire. Included in the activities were a National FIREWISE workshop, "After the Fire" video, tours of demonstration sites of subdivisions, community fuels reduction projects, post-fire recovery site, defensible space treatments, revegetation management workshop, community meetings, and the "Missionary Ridge and Valley Fires" video. The events were sponsored by SJMA, CSFS, Durango Fire and Rescue Authority, Firewise Program, Local Fire Departments, National Forest Foundation, OCS, and San Juan Public Lands Center. The SJMA, through a grant from the National Forest Foundation, funded the April month of events. OCS and in-kind donations of time and resources from other agencies and organizations provided the required match for this project.

Neighbor-to-Neighbor education

A part of theCommunity Fire Plan, OCS is beginning a Neighbor-to-Neighbor education effort. The goal is to build networks of neighbors reaching out to neighbors in subdivisions and residential areas to promote awareness about wildfire risk and encourage action to address these risks.

Demonstration Plots

An additional educational and outreach effort has been the preparation of demonstration plots featuring defensible space and thinning on homeowner property. The classic demonstration site currently is Falls Creek Ranch. CSFS thinned and burned 21 acres on this site. Fire came up the hillside and when it hit the treated area it fell to the ground and saved many homes. CSFS Durango District Forester Dan Ochocki continues to look for additional demonstration sites. Ideally Ochocki wants to have an untreated area next to a treated area where there is high visibility. "I want to dispel the notion that it will look bad if their trees are removed. I want people to drive by and say, 'that looks good, I should do that to my land'".


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Copyright©2003 Toddi A. Steelman and North Carolina State University