Mountain Town News: Smoke in the air and fire in the news in many towns | SummitDaily.com

Mountain Town News: Smoke in the air and fire in the news in many towns

Allen Best
Mountain Town News

WHISTLER, B.C. – Forest fires were much in the news last week, just as smoke was much in the air around many mountain towns.

At Whistler, the fire was small, just one hectare, or not quite 2.5 acres. But municipal officials and Pique Newsmagazine cited it as a warning.

Since 2009, the municipality has spent $1.7 million for what is called, with clinical blandness, vegetative manipulation. In other words, they cut trees. Last year, the municipal council commissioned another study, which concluded that about 4,000 hectares (9,900 acres) of provincial land — something akin to national forest land — within the municipality were at high risk of fire.

Pique Newsmagazine observed that this failed to account for "all the mature trees and growth in our lovely neighbourhoods — greenery that is cherished by homeowners despite its obvious hazard in a wildfire situation."

Even so, few homeowners have assessed the vulnerability of their homes through the provincial FireSmart program.

The fire appeared to have started from the campsite of a squatter, somebody living in the forest illegally. "As the weather heats up and the housing market grows tighter, more camps are springing up on the outskirts of Whistler," Pique noted.

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Peering over Whistler's shoulder are memories of last year's fire at Fort McMurray, the oil/tar sands town in northern Alberta, where a wildfire caused $9 billion in damage.

Like Fort McMurray, there's just one road in and out of Whistler. An evacuation plan is being prepared, and Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden told the newspaper that all three lanes toward Vancouver would be dedicated to an exodus.

Colorado had scattered fires near Telluride, Durango and Steamboat. The most notable was in the Tenmile Range near Breckenridge called the Peak Two fire, because of its proximity to the town.

In California, the drought is over but 100 million trees are now dead in the Sierra Nevada.

The San Diego Union says some scientists believe Californians will need to learn to coexist with an increasingly flammable landscape, especially if the climate continues to change.

While homes themselves are being built in ways to resist fire, a fire official says that being among trees will always pose risks. The key is creating defensible space.

"You can put one of these homes in the middle of a forest and not have any clearances, and it's still going to burn," said Scott McLean, spokesman for Cal Fire, the statewide firefighting agency.

In Wyoming, George Wuerthner says it always was folly to expect that large wildfires could be eliminated. "Where and when a fire will occur is impossible to predict," he writes in the Jackson Hole News&Guide, referring to the forest of aspen, lodgepole pine, spruce and fir around Jackson.

"Since you cannot predict where a fire will burn, but you can predict that you don't want a house to burn, fuel treatments should be done in the immediate area around homes to reduce their flammability, while the majority of wildfires should be permitted to burn."

Wuerthner has published 38 books, including "Wildfire: a Century of Failed Forest Policy."

Biggest income gap in nation in Jackson Hole

JACKSON, Wyo. – Jackson Hole may have the most dramatic geography in all of ski country. The distance from Jackson, the valley's only town, to the top of Grand Teton is 7,549 feet.

After studying U.S. demographic reports, economist Jonathan Schechter finds that Jackson Hole, otherwise called Teton County, also has the greatest income inequality of any county in America.

Studying numbers from 2014, Schechter found that 8 percent of all households earned $200,000 or more, and they accounted for 67 percent of all income of residents.

Schechter, writing in a supplement to the Jackson Hole News&Guide called Compass, compared Teton County to other ski counties in Colorado, Idaho, and Utah.

He found that Teton County is an exception in the wealth of its most affluent residents as compared to others.

The wealthiest residents of the counties in which Breckenridge, Steamboat and Vail are located earn less than 50 percent of their counties' combined incomes. The wealthiest residents earn nearly 79 percent in Aspen. But in Jackson Hole, it's nearly 90 percent.

Schechter makes other observations to the effect that while all ski valleys of the Rocky Mountains have great wealth, Jackson Hole stands a little higher, with its only rival being Aspen. He operates a think-tank called the Charture Institute.

Self-governing council for homeless campers

DURANGO, Colo. – You heard about that permanent camp for the homeless located in Durango. There's more to the story.

After years of shutting down camps and having them spring up elsewhere, the sheriff's department said camps would be left alone if they were kept clean and the campers obeyed the law.

Then, last winter, La Plata County Sheriff's Lt. Ed Aber asked for volunteers at the camp interested in being on a council to help govern the camping area.

The council would have to enforce several rules: no fires, clean camps and campers must keep to themselves after dark.

So far, this governing council of the homeless seems to be working.

"I'm not getting calls nearly as much; they are handling things themselves," he told the Durango Herald.

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