County releases draft wildfire protection plan | SummitDaily.com

County releases draft wildfire protection plan

BOB BERWYNsummit daily news

SUMMIT COUNTY – It’s been a long time coming, but Summit County’s community wildfire protection plan has finally hit the streets, albeit in draft form.The plan, once finalized, could help local officials gain access to federal funding sources, and, equally important, provide some critically important mapping tools to help combat the growing risk of wildfires in beetle-killed forests.”It’s off and rolling and it’s huge,” said Patti Maguire, Summit County’s wildfire mitigation officer. “The wildfire council has been appointed, held its first meeting and talked about prioritizing wildfire mitigation projects. It’s a committee that should stand for a long time. There’s a lot of work to be done.”In the executive summary, the plan explains that the county’s population has tripled in the past 25 years. With much of the new exurban sprawl occurring in forested areas, the potential for catastrophically damaging fires has also grown exponentially.To address that risk, the plan seeks to:• improve the community’s understanding of existing community fire protection infrastructure;• improve the community’s understanding of what areas are at particular risk to wildfire;• develop a plan to reduce potential loss of property and important natural resources while protecting the safety of the public and firefighters;• outline a strategy for informing the public of their responsibilities to reduce wildfire risk;• provide a meaningful structure to update plans in the future;• and engage interested members of the public and affected governmental entities to shape and effectively implement the plan.The plan highlights the current mountain pine beetle epidemic as a key factor in the fire risk. A 2002 aerial survey showed about 8,000 dead trees in about 6,000 acres in Summit County. In 2003, the number grew to 25,000 dead trees in an area just less than 10,000 acres. Estimates from the 2004 survey suggest the beetle-affected areas have spread exponentially, to 100,000 dead trees on about 38,000 acres.In all, there are about 110,000 acres of both public and private land in Summit County that could potentially benefit from some sort of treatment, according to the plan.