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Neighborhood groups engage in fire mitigation projects

Wildfire Mitigation Council hosts Fuels Reduction Field Tour on Friday

Trees bordering a trail through the Sanctuary neighborhood in Steamboat Springs have been thinned, including removing dead, diseased and hazardous trees. (Photo by Suzie Romig)

As wildfires continue to plague the county and state, area homeowners association groups are taking on fire fuels mitigation projects to protect their neighborhoods.

Work continues this week, for example, in the Sanctuary neighborhood, situated adjacent to a key area of potential fire danger on the east side of Steamboat Springs. The Sanctuary is located within the wildland-urban interface in the Fish Creek Watershed, and homeowners are funding a two-year $300,000 project that will address some 100 acres of fire fuels.

HOA President Anne Lauinger said the mitigation work addresses previous tree falls, ground fuels, beetle-killed trees and a tree blow-down from a storm last fall.



Scott Carlson, owner of All Weather Services in Steamboat Springs, which is completing the Sanctuary mitigation project, said the company has received an increase in calls of 30% to 50% from potential customers during the last two years.

“Seeing the news and seeing these fires burn has peaked a lot of homeowners’ interests,” said Carlson, who started his business 13 years ago after working high school and college summers as a logger in Alaska.



Fire fuels mitigation work recently completed near the Sanctuary Trail will help create a fire break between the neighborhood east of Steamboat Springs and potential wildfire danger in the Fish Creek Watershed. (Photo by Suzie Romig)

Carolina Manriquez, a forester with the Colorado State Forest Service office in Steamboat, said other neighborhood groups in Routt County have contracted mitigation work in areas such as Dakota Ridge, Stagecoach, Catamount and near Pearl Lake.

The Dakota Ridge HOA board turned to the CSFS for advice and education. Dead and dying trees in common areas and on individual properties needed to be addressed to reduce wildfire risk, said HOA board member Sarah Jones.

“This came from a growing awareness of risk of wildfires in Routt and neighboring counties, and insurance companies requiring additional mitigation work for several homeowners,” Jones said.

The HOA board commissioned an assessment that was shared with all homeowners, and then the board hired a mitigation vendor to address HOA common areas identified as higher fire risk.

“We then reached out to all homeowners and specifically those whose property had dead or down trees that presented a greater risk,” Jones said. “We also held a meeting with the vendor and CSFS so homeowners could ask questions about their property and tree work.”

CSFS forester Drew Langel said the state service is a good starting point for landowners to learn about fire mitigation steps and possible grant funding. CSFS officials are available to visit a neighborhood or HOA group by request to see if fire mitigation work is necessary. Then homeowner groups are encouraged to work with a forestry professional to determine a fuels reduction recommendation or forest health management plan.

The local CSFS office maintains lists of service vendors for evaluations and mitigation work, which is available via email at csfs_steamboat@mail.colostate.edu.

Langel encourages landowners to review the new version of the CSFS Home Ignition Zone publication released this spring and found via a search at CSFS.ColoState.edu. The easy-to-understand 16-page guide outlines preparing a home for wildfire and creating defensible space. The guide notes that more than half of Colorado residents live in the wildland-urban interface and are at some risk of being affected by wildfire.

“In Colorado, if you live in the wildland-urban interface, it is not a matter of if a wildfire will impact your home and property, but when,” the guide notes. “Homeowners have the ultimate responsibility to proactively prepare their property for wildfire.”

A forestry management plan is very site dependent with many variables, Langel said, such as vegetation types, steepness of slopes, topography, tree stand density and composition and weather patterns, but in general the first priority is to remove dead, diseased and hazard trees.

Carlson said although some homeowners might be initially hesitant about the removal of trees to create a defensive zone, he encourages landowners to err on the side of caution versus the aesthetics of landscaping, especially during current drought years. The work can give homeowners peace of mind, he said.

Fire fuels reduction work continues near the Sanctuary Trail. Removed trees are shown in the foreground, and thinning work is visible in the background. Photo by Suzie Romig

Langel said even when tree wood chips remain scattered across the forest floor following mitigation and mastication projects, those ground fuels are much less dangerous in wildfire fighting compared to ladder or canopy fuels.

“It changes the fire’s behavior, and it’s a lot easier to manage,” Langel said. “Crown fires that are burning in the canopy are more difficult to combat and require more resources and a more aggressive style of firefighting.”

Foresters stress that creating a home’s defensive space, which focuses on work within 100 feet surrounding a home, means a home can defend itself from fire as there is no guarantee that firefighters will be able to defend each home. During a wildfire threatening a neighborhood, firefighters must triage.

“Firefighters will not send resources in if it’s dangerous,” Langel said. “That’s the point of all this. Make your properties safe and appealing for firefighters.”

Free fuels reduction field tour

The Routt County Wildfire Mitigation Council will host an educational Fuels Reduction Field Tour at 9 a.m. Friday. The tour is free and open to property managers and homeowners association leaders from neighborhoods that are located within the wildland-urban interface and want more information on hazardous fuels removal.

The field trip will highlight examples of successful fuels mitigation work in two county communities. Tour preregistration is required by noon Thursday and is available by emailing baili.foster@usda.gov.

 


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