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Homes at risk

NICOLE FORMOSA
summit daily news

DILLON ” With Summit County’s worst wildfire

season in 30 years in the rear view mirror, fire officials are working with county and

federal representatives and local homeowners to reduce the risk of future fires in the county.

Last summer saw 10 wildfires in 10 days, two of which ” the Ophir Mountain Fire in Farmer’s Korner and Frisco’s Meadow Creek fire ” taxed Summit County’s resources to a maximum, according to Lake Dillon Fire Authority deputy chief Jeff Berino.

Both of those blazes were fueled by brown, beetle-killed trees and had the potential to become significantly worse, Berino said.

“These things were the most aggressive fires I have seen in the 26 years I’ve been doing this,” Berino said.

The recently formed wildfire council hosted a public meeting Monday to talk about high risk areas for wildfire in the Lower Blue and Snake River basins, and to gather feedback on how homeowners felt about the designations.

District Ranger Rick Newton pointed out Keystone Gulch as a high risk area because of the gulch’s load of volatile fuels and the number of homes and businesses nearby in the bordering ski area.

He also mentioned the Loveland Pass Village behind the St. Johns condos in Keystone and some fringe areas around Summit Cove, such as Keystone Ranch and Soda Creek, because of heavy fuel loads.

In the Lower Blue Basin, Newton identified the Ptarmigan neighborhood, the Salt Lick Gulch near Wildernest and the Pebble Creek, Boulder Creek and Sierra Bosque neighborhoods farther north of Silverthorne as high risk areas.

The council took several variables into consideration when dubbing areas high risk, such as fuel hazards, nearby homes and businesses and other infrastructure, local preparedness and community values.

The Forest Service is preparing to begin the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) planning process in the Lower Blue and Snake River basins, which will help direct what treatments will be used in the specific areas, whether it be selective thinning, or another type of fuel reduction approach.

Newton said he’s hoping the NEPA process will be completed this fall in order to implement treatments in the summer of 2007.

In the meantime, homeowners can be proactive about creating defensible space around their homes this summer, by clearing away potential fuels such as piles of firewood stacked up by the house and thinning trees around the house.

Lake Dillon Fire Authority chief Dave Parmley gave an example of a subdivision that remained intact during the 2002 Mission Ridge Fire near Durango because residents had created defensible space around their homes. Others nearby without the space had been damaged.

Gray Pearson, who lives in the Mesa Cortina subdivision above Silverthorne, expressed concern about the access to his area in the event of a fire because there is only one way in and out.

He recalled a recent warning the county’s fire mitigation officer Patti Macguire gave the area’s residents:

“When you get your reverse 911 call … that tells you to leave, just don’t run into the fire trucks going up limited access roads,” Pearson said.

Sheriff John Minor said the county has an emergency evacuation plan, which will be tested in the Silverthorne area in June during a planned incident management team exercise.

Chuck Tolton, the director of mountain operations at Keystone Resort, suggested the Forest Service look at the possibility of banning campfires in Keystone Gulch, especially since 80 percent of last season’s fires were caused by human activity.

Tolton said that if a fire ignited in the gulch, the effects would be detrimental to the resort and could potentially trap a significant number of people.

Another homeowner suggested the council consider adding the Snake River peninsula by the Summerwood subdivision into the high risk category.

The wildfire council will take Monday’s comments into consideration as it spends the next two months finalizing the risk maps before giving recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners and the Forest Service on where efforts and money should be focused when it becomes available.

The council formed in December 2005 as one part of the Community Wildfire Protection Plan, which could help open doors in the future for federal funding and grants for wildfire mitigation projects.

Nicole Formosa can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13625, or at nformosa@summitdaily.com.

Summit County’s wildfire council will hold a public meeting to focus on high risk areas in the Upper Blue and Ten Mile basins at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at the Red, White and Blue Fire Department’s Main Street station in Breckenridge.


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