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Improve Fire Prevention and SuppressionReduce Hazardous Fuels
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Update: Santa Fe Watershed, 2004

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

Two neighborhoods at risk

Santa Fe has not experienced a wildfire in its wildland urban interface in recent years. Federal, state and local efforts to convey to homeowners the need to thin and create defensible space around homes has been a difficult endeavor. Two neighborhoods are at the greatest risk in the event of a wildfire in the Watershed—the Upper Canyon Road and Hyde Park Estates

Upper Canyon Road

Upper Canyon Rd image

Upper Canyon Road follows the Santa Fe River east, ending at the only access road leading into the Watershed. Houses are built close to the road with little to no room left for expansion. At present, the width of Upper Canyon Road does not meet city specifications of a legal road. An emergency situation along Upper Canyon Road makes access into and out of the area challenging for emergency vehicles to respond.

Little to no effort or interest has been put forth by the neighborhood to create defensible space around homes. Residents do not want to cut down trees. One longtime resident knew of no planned evacuation route for the neighborhood. Moreover, the Canyon Neighborhood Association, which has represented the homeowners on Upper Canyon Road for 25 years, has been mostly inactive since the 1990s. There has not been interest from the association regarding the Santa Fe Municipal Watershed Project (SFMWP) except to oppose the transportation of timber out of the watershed on trucks via Upper Canyon Road.

Hyde Park Estates

Hyde Park Estates image

Hyde Park Estates is a rapidly growing residential area that borders the watershed. The USFS selected Hyde Park Estates as a FIREWISE pilot community based on the Santa Fe County WUI Assessment categorizing the subdivision at very high risk of catastrophic wildfire. The USFS, NMSF and Santa Fe County Fire Department completed a FIREWISE workshop in 2001 with residents within Hyde Park Estates. When Jack Cohen from the USFS's Fire Science Lab in Montana visited Hyde Park, he said it was one of the worst communities he had seen in terms of potential to burn.

The neighborhood conducts FIREWISE meetings every quarter or as often as needed. Clean up days are very popular and are scheduled twice a year. The USFS provides a chipper and residents can dispose of slash and thinning debris.

A limited number of homes in this subdivision have performed thinning work and created defensible space. Out of 69 lots in Hyde Park Estates, about seven homeowners have created defensible space around their homes. Some residents are vehemently opposed to thinning because they feel the aesthetics of the subdivision are compromised through the thinning work. Claudia Standish is the USFS WUI Specialist working with the Hyde Park residents and coordination of FIREWISE activities. Her hope is that little by little people will come around, "I, for one, feel very passionately about making some difference in the communities we serve but it is ultimately the responsibility of the homeowner to be responsible for his or her structure ignition zone."



Santa Fe city fire department

Santa Fe Fire Chief Sperling feels the city is behind in its actions to deal with the wildland fire threat as a whole. The city has not experienced interface wildfires, so it hasn't been on the radar of the fire community or the public at large. The Cerro Grande fire in 2000 began to change attitudes.

The City Fire Department has 122 full time employees and five fire stations to support the area population of 70,000.. Prior to January 2003 they were responding only to structural and EMS calls, but are now in the process of crosstraining. The City started training firefighters in 131-190 (basic wildland training) in January 2003. The goal is to have the training completed by March 2003, in time for fire season. They have reciprocal training agreements with Los Alamos, who provides the instructors for 131-190.


Since the site visit, the Santa Fe Fire Department has completed 130-190 basic wildland training for all personnel.

Santa Fe hired a wildland urban interface specialist in January 2003 to prepare hazardous risk assessments, develop desirable future conditions, conduct community-wide education, design fire management activities, help with property protection and interface with the watershed.

Santa Fe county fire department

Santa Fe County Fire Chief, Hank Blackwell, leads a force of 120 highly trained firefighters with 80 rolling apparatus. The County is part of the New Mexico Resource Mobilization Plan, a process which upgrades wildland fire fighting ability statewide. Santa Fe County was the first county in the state to meet the National Wildfire Coordinating Group standards and they have established a wildland fire fighting team. Santa Fe County Fire Department is the most deployed wildland fire fighting county in the state.

The county established the Santa Fe Wildfire Cooperators with the Santa Fe National Forest around 1997. This group brings together federal and local agencies with citizen's groups to facilitate information across organizations. It is a platform for federal and local agencies to collaborate with the public concerning fire danger, evacuation routes, fire preparedness, disseminates information, schedules meetings with the public and more.

The county, mostly through the efforts of Hank Blackwell, developed and passed the Urban Wildland Interface Ordinance in 2001. This code deals with interface issues, access, water supply, etc. When the process first began, the county met huge resistance. Blackwell organized a citizen's coalition group to work with him in drafting a workable and acceptable code. The group was extremely devoted and met once a week for five hours for over three months. The end product was a code that passed unanimously with the public.

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

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