The Valley celebrates 3rd Firewise designation
Forest fires, always a pressing concern in Colorado, have become even more salient over the last few years as raging wildfires have destroyed homes and created statewide emergencies with alarming regularity.
Homeowners and Home Owner Associations (HOAs) are keenly aware of the dangers posed by these infernos but often find themselves struggling to know where specifically to apply their efforts, especially when fuel mitigation can be quite expensive. Likewise, in recognizing that the dangers posed by a forest fire are more systemic than any one individual can address, homeowners can feel as though their efforts to reduce their risk are meaningless when their surrounding areas remain susceptible to outbreaks.
Some HOAs in Grand County have been working diligently over the last several years to reduce their fire hazard. The Valley at Winter Park in Tabernash just received its third annual endorsement as a Firewise Community.
Firewise is a recognition program administered by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
“It is meant to garner community support for actions reducing wildfire risk,” said Ron Cousineau, District Forester for the Colorado State Forest Service. “It keeps the communities more involved. When you do fire protection it is never just a one-day thing. It requires periodic maintenance.”
To receive a Firewise designation five specific steps must be undertaken by a community or HOA. They must obtain a wildfire risk assessment as a written document from the State Forest Service or fire department, a board/committee must be formed and an action plan created based on the wildfire risk assessment, the community must conduct an annual “Firewise Day” event, they must invest a minimum of $2 per capita on local Firewise actions annually, and they must submit an application for Firewise designation to the State Firewise liaison.
This year periodic maintenance conducted by the landowners at The Valley at Winter Park will be aided by grant money provided by the Colorado State Forest Service. Cousineau discussed the grant saying, “It is potentially available to other communities that are interested in fuels reduction, defensible space and overall community protection.”
The grant money available from the State Forest Service is a dollar for dollar matching grant wherein homeowners can receive up to approximately $400 to aid in fuel reduction.
“The work completed must meet Colorado State Forest Service guidelines for mitigation,” said Cousineau. “If folks are interested they can contact us at the Colorado State Forest Service office.”
The funds available to homeowners were greatly appreciated by Deb Thomas-Dobersen, president of the Valley at Winter Park HOA. She took a proactive role in shepherding the Valley at Winter Park toward its Firewise designation goal.
“I joined the Firewise group to keep my finger on what we can do as a community to prevent fires,” she said.
Thomas-Dobersen began attending Wildfire Protection Plan meetings in Granby and making contact with local, state and federal fire and forest officials to get the ball rolling.
“Our hazard rating is moderate,” said Thomas-Dobersen. “We wanted to know what would decrease our moderate risk. We are doing an HOA-wide attempt at reducing fuel here.”
She was especially proud of work done by the HOA to reduce the fire danger posed by a 66-acre meadow in the HOA area.
“We were originally a golf course,” she said. “It is now a meadow, about 66 acres. We are delighted it is a meadow because it is beautiful and our houses are around it. We have done a lot of logging trying to get after the beetle kill to mitigate our risk for wildfires.”
The level of participation from other members of the HOA impressed Thomas-Dobersen.
“We came together as a community. Community buy-in is important.”
That community buy-in is also important to the fire fighters who battle the blazes.
“The buzzword has always been ‘defensible space’,” said Todd Holzwarth, fire chief of the East Grand Fire District. “The new buzzword coming up is ‘stand alone space.’ Defensible assumes the structure can or will be defended. Going to stand alone space is the next step.”
Holzwarth explained that the establishment of stand alone space for structures would allow fire fighters to concentrate their efforts on battling a flame front rather than protecting existing structures. He also highlighted how fast-moving fires can push through an area, forcing emergency responders out of subdivisions. Theoretically, with stand-alone space, a structure would still be standing after the incident has passed.
Schelly Olson, assistant chief of the Grand Fire Protection District, liaises with communities in the Grand Fire Protection District working for a Firewise designation. She highlighted the value of the effort to communities.
“When we go into a neighborhood with a fire we can focus on fighting the fire rather than using precious resources to protect homes,” said Olson. “Ultimately I think there is just peace of mind living in a Firewise community. Everyone is on the same page, they know what the plans are.”
Along with the Valley at Winter Park three other communities in Grand County have received Firewise designation. Winter Park Highlands, Pole Creek Meadows and Homestead Hills have all put in the work required for their certification.
Two other communities, Val Moritz and Ten Mile Creek, are in the process of applying for their Firewise designation.
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