By Dave Root, Colorado State Forest Service
It’s July, so it’s probably safe to say that the evening news is reporting on some community, somewhere, threatened by wildfire.
Every home, business or community within or close to wildland fuels, be they forests or grasslands, is at risk from wildfire. The specter of such destruction is frightening to confront, and perhaps that is why so many communities choose to ignore it—often at the cost of lives, property and the wildlands so loved by the residents. But communities that acknowledge this threat and take action in advance have the best chance of surviving a wildfire.
Take the example of Cathedral Pines, a community in the direct path of the 2013 Black Forest Fire north of Colorado Springs. The developer of Cathedral Pines had the foresight to thin the forests, removing unhealthy trees and dangerously unnatural fuel accumulations, before the homes were even built. As the fire burned through the community, the prior fuel reduction efforts reduced the fire’s intensity, and only one home, near unmanaged forest outside Cathedral Pines, was lost. Furthermore, the forest survived with the loss of only a few trees, so the community and its forest quickly recovered. If Cathedral Pines demonstrated that a community that is prepared can survive Colorado’s most destructive wildfire, why do so few communities plan and take actions for their own survival?
One reason is that oftentimes they don’t know where to begin. The first step is a simple phone call to your local fire protection district or Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) district office. The CSFS is a service and outreach division of the Warner College of Natural Resources at Colorado State University, and assists communities and landowners with forestry and wildfire mitigation issues. Nineteen district and field offices are located around the state, with contact information available on the CSFS website at www.csfs.colostate.edu.
Every task also begins with a plan, and help is available to communities through the creation of a Community Wildfire Protection Plan. Although the name may conjure images of a complex document written in confusing jargon, CWPPs, as they are known, are actually written by the communities themselves, in language they understand, with the assistance of a forester. In plain English, these plans answer three questions:
- What are our unique values at risk?
- How might wildfire threaten these values?
- How do we reduce this threat?
Motivating the community to take action is the next task. There is help here as well. Your local fire protection district and CSFS representatives will work with your community, with firefighters available to speak at HOA meetings and community events. Many fire districts also will visit homeowners and provide confidential recommendations for reducing fire risks inside and outside the home.
The CSFS also provides information and literature on a wide variety of forestry and wildfire topics. Forest health and wildfire risk reduction are inseparable goals, and a forester can additionally offer advice about insect and disease problems and help communities improve forest health while reducing wildfire risk.
The Firewise Communities/USA® program offers another means to help motivate and educate the community. The program recognizes communities with active wildfire risk reduction programs, provides educational literature and helps communities to share ideas and success stories with others. More information can be found on the CSFS website at www.csfs.colostate.edu/wildfire-mitigation
and at www.firewise.org