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Fraser " Cisterns enhance fire protection in remote housing developments

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi Daily News
Courtesy photoInstalling a cistern large enough for a subdivision isn't exactly a do-it-yourself project.
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Fighting fire to save just one home takes about 30,000 gallons of water; but for many rural subdivisions, existing water sources may not be reliable enough to supply that amount.

For such cases in an emergency, where would the water be drawn from?

Homeowners at the Fairways at Pole Creek next to the YMCA of the Rockies-Snow Mountain Ranch in the Fraser Valley answered that question in December 2006. The YMCA fire that threatened Pole Creek homes last June affirmed the decision by homeowners there to purchase one 50,000-gallon tank at $320 per household to augment available fire-protection water.

Before that, a pond was used to store water earmarked for fire protection, but at the whim of nature, ponds are prone to freezing, drying up, filling up with dirt, algae and weeds, being at the mercy of a water commissioner concerned about stream levels, or in the case of the Fairway’s pond, becoming home to an increasing number of “mud puppies,” according to East Grand Fire Protection District Fire Chief Todd Holzwarth.

None of these scenarios is helpful when a home is on fire.

Firefighters try to pump water as smoothly and as quickly as possible. Clearing objects from the hose is not an efficient use of time in such emergencies.

From the East Grand Fire Protection District’s perspective, fire cisterns are a prime way to improve water availability.

“The tank systems is what we think is the best,” Holzwarth said.

Holzwarth estimates about five subdivisions in his district already have installed cisterns upon the district’s recommendation.

Having dependable sources of water solely intended for fire protection is a benefit to all, as such sources result in a better insurance rating for a fire district which, in turn, creates savings on homeowners’ insurance.

The cistern was a solution among five explored by the Fairways’ Homeowners’ Association Forestry Committee, which represents 263 lots.

Deb Carr is a member of the Forestry Committee, and her husband Lou Ladrigan is committee chairman.

Upon the subdivision’s decision about the best way to ramp up fire safety, Deb Carr went to work coordinating the project.

But she found there was a lack of how-to information about finding a 12,000-pound tank and properly burying it seven feet below the ground. “I had a zillion questions,” she said, yet couldn’t find a step-by-step explanation on how to go about it.

As part of a Colorado State Forest Service grant process, to which the subdivision applied to recoup costs for the cistern project but was ultimately denied, Carr kept tabs on all details as the project progressed.

In the end, her note-taking and recording was transferred into a do-it-yourselfer “How to Install a Fiberglass Fire Cistern” manual and distributed to all Grand County fire districts.

A major East Grand Fire District goal is to have water sources every mile to two miles from where a fire might be, and cisterns would help achieve that long-term goal, according to Holzwarth.

As a rule of thumb, the cost of a cistern is double the amount it can hold, i.e., a 50,000 gallon cistern may have a total cost of about $100,000, Carr said. But the total cost of the Fairway’s cistern was about $85,000 since the subdivision supplied a lot of volunteer help.

Ideally, one large cistern or multiple smaller ones should be placed on a slope so gravity directs water through piping to a fire hydrant, where firefighters can access the water.

About 50,000 gallons “sounds like a lot of water,” Holzwarth said, “but it’s really not that much water.”

It’s enough to fight one or two home fires, he said, or to help ward off an impending wildfire.

Subdivisions that implement cistern systems should be able to refill the tank after use, a reason why subdivisions with well systems are good candidates, Holzwarth said.

“Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail tbina@grandcountynews.com.


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