Agencies collaborate to reduce wildfire risk |

Agencies collaborate to reduce wildfire risk

NICOLE FORMOSAsummit daily news
Summit Daily/Kristin Skvorc Firefighters gather after working on Wednesday's wildfire near Keystone.

SUMMIT COUNTY – Two miles off Tiger Road, high above the Breckenridge Golf Course, several men and women whose jobs revolve around fires convened for a melding of the minds.Representatives from half a dozen federal and county agencies – including the U.S. Forest Service, the Red, White and Blue Fire Department and Summit County Open Space – stood in a circle, maps and notepads in hand, and discussed what would happen if a fire broke out in the subdivision.”It would be complex,” noted Ross Wilmore of the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit. “We would have aircraft in here. There would be a couple of helicopters. … If the houses are already prepped, that’s going to make things a lot easier.”

They’ve selected the particular subdivision because its wildfire risk is considered to be high with pockets of extreme. The reasons behind the ranking include the lack of fire hydrants, the fact that the homes were developed on a steep slope and that the area only has one access road, said Red, White and Blue chief Gary Green.The group, which also includes U.S. Forest Service Dillon District Ranger Rick Newton, Summit County Commissioner Bob French, county wildfire mitigation officer Patti Maguire, a fire ecologist and a representative from the county Geographic Information Systems (GIS) department, makes up the Upper Blue Wildfire Mitigation and Forest Health Committee.The committee has taken a leadership role in wildfire mitigation efforts in the Upper Blue Basin, which eventually spread into a countywide effort and the creation of the Community Wildfire Protection Plan, said Gary Severson, executive director of Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, which formed the committee at the request of the town of Breckenridge.During this day’s field trip, the group is testing several areas in the Upper Blue Basin that the members earlier identified as high or extreme risk for wildfires, in order to determine if their state-of-the art GIS maps match the actual situation on the ground.

The maps will be included in the protection plan, which will tell fire officials where the highest fire dangers are and where resources would be needed most in the event of a large-scale fire.What’s next?By early September, the county hopes to form a fire council comprised of decision makers from local fire protection districts and federal and state land management agencies.

Its goal would be to decide the best methods to use financial and physical resources and to support the efforts of small communities, such as the Ruby Ranch community, which has been proactive in fire mitigation for months.Another task of the council would be to ensure the plan is updated and implemented in years to come.Before that council is formed, the plan calls for several fuel reduction and forest health projects to be completed around the county this summer as interim hazard reduction strategies.

Examples are thinning, piling and burning slash in the Mesa Cortina area and creating defensible space around the Mesa Cortina water tower, removing 600 diseased and dead trees behind Summit Middle School and controlling existing mountain pine beetle infestation in 40 acres of the Blue Danube open space area.The Lower Blue Forest Health and Wildlife Mitigation group, which consists of private property owners, will also head up fuel reduction activities in the Lower Blue River corridor from Silverthorne to Green Mountain Reservoir, the plan says.The protection plan is still in its conceptual stages, although the Board of County Commissioners recently gave the county’s special projects manager the okay to take the draft to all the towns to gather feedback.County manager Ron Holliday hopes to have the final version completed in the next couple of weeks.

The plan will be updated every year to keep up with the ever-changing fire danger in the county.Nicole Formosa can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext.229, or at Fuel and Reducing Risk

• The local protection plan was born in March 2005 when the Board of County Commissioners, local fire chiefs, the Dillon Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service, the Colorado State District Forester and the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit began sharing ideas and thoughts on how to create a strategy for eliminating hazardous fuels in Summit County’s forests. • They envisioned the guide as a tool to inform private homeowners of their responsibility to reduce wildfire risk around their homes and in their neighborhoods. If all the federal and county jurisdictions collaborated, they decided, the plan and their message to private property owners would come off stronger.• While the information included in the manual is for planning and preparation purposes, it will also be instrumental in an emergency situation. For instance, if a large fire involving federal land were to spark in the county, the Forest Service would call in firefighters from all over the state to assist.• “The very first thing that overhead incident management team is going to say is, ‘Where do we need to deploy our resources?’ and this plan will definitely help them understand it,” according to Gary Severson of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Now more than ever, your financial support is critical to help us keep our communities informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having on our residents and businesses. Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.

Your donation will be used exclusively to support quality, local journalism.