Summit County ramps up for fire season with new mitigation efforts
A surprise blaze that burned a tenth of an acre Wednesday evening served as a reminder that wildfire season is approaching Summit County. While crews have already transitioned into the season by training and preparing equipment, county officials are taking a few extra preventative steps for the summer.
While it’s too early to estimate this season’s fire danger, the National Resources Convention Service reported Colorado snowpack levels were just 64 percent of average, as of April 1.
“We’re having longer, drier summers, or fire seasons,” said Dan Schroder, Summit County CSU extension director. “We are sitting in the hot seat. That’s why we are doing so much mitigation and cutting of trees.”
In response to these concerns, Summit County Wildfire Council created a full-time position for a wildfire mitigation specialist, which was filled by Doug Cupp in early March. Under his leadership, the county is looking at expanding last year’s wood chipping program, and continuing discussions on wildfire preparedness.
Cupp is no stranger to wildfires. While working for 20 years with various fire departments across Colorado, he served with several early mitigation efforts, starting with the Boulder Fire-Rescue Department’s first wildfire mitigation crew. Then, he moved to Fort Collins, working as a wildfire coordinator for Poudre Fire Authority for six years. After moving to the mountains and working as division chief in training for Summit County’s High Country Training Center, Cupp is quite familiar with the county.
“A lot of departments are seeing how important it is,” Cupp said, looking back at his experiences fighting wildfires. “Not only do you have the property loss, homes lost, and risk of floods over the next 10 years, but it really puts the entire community at risk.”
Cupp remembered fighting the Hayman fire in 2002, the most destructive fire at the time. That record was broken by Boulder’s Fourmile Fire, and then Fort Collin’s High Park Fire, both of which he fought during his time on the Front Range.
“These are not records that you want to break,” Cupp said.
Serving as a taskforce leader, Cupp led several engine companies to save one neighborhood at a time.
“We were looking for homes that have created a defensible space. Then you have a safe haven for firefighters to stand their ground,” Cupp said. “Other times you may not have that level of safety, so we may have to go in ahead of time for preparation.”
Cupp and his team would fell trees or move piles of lumber to prevent the oncoming fire from catching each house. Now, he plans to apply these experiences to help Summit County homeowners defend their homes, by looking at factors such as forest health, community development and structures that are easy to save.
One of Cupp’s goals is to expand on last year’s chipping program, which was an unforeseen success across the county. More than 40 oversized semi loads carried 923 tons of chipped wood from 1,486 Summit County homes.
“It was so successful that it was difficult to keep up with all of the homeowners who were putting out fuels,” Cupp said.
To address the high demand for the program, this year’s program will run a little differently. Two different teams will make their way across the county at once, giving the groups more time to pick up kindling from each neighborhood. The program will run from June 28 to Oct. 2.
Residents should look to specifically remove brush or low-lying limbs that might allow a fire to climb close to their homes.
“We’re trying to figure out what are the best practices that we can continually promote,” Cupp said.
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