Wildfire Council tackles danger zones with mitigation engine

Firefighters working on the Wildfire Council's Wildland Mitigation Engine clear downed trees and other fuel sources from a hillside near Ten Mile Estates subdivision.
Courtesy photo |

Summer in the high country means fire season, and while the severity of fire danger fluctuates the potential for a catastrophic conflagration is never far away.

To help combat the constant fire danger posed by summer the Grand County Wildfire Council, along with the various Fire Protection Districts in the County, are throwing their weight behind a new partnership project; a wildland mitigation engine. The wildland mitigation engine will be clearing deadwood and other debris from select subdivisions throughout the county this summer; working to establish fire breaks in key areas to help stave off danger.

The mitigation engine serves multiple purposes from the perspective of our local fire departments. First and foremost the engine clears dangerous fire fuel concentrations, reducing the danger posed by a wildfire outbreak and creating conditions that will slow the spread of potential blazes.

Second, the mitigation engine provides local firefighters with training opportunities, allowing them to hone and refine their skills in the field at a slower pace without a major wildfire bearing down and threatening them. It is much easier to learn the intricacies of operating a 25-pound chainsaw when a 1,000-degree fire is not raging just a few hundred yards away.

The program was initiated last year and is part of the Wildfire Council’s overall mitigation efforts in Middle Park. Through a cost-sharing program within the Wildfire Council, in association with the County, State and Northern Water, funds and in-kind donations are provided to target problem areas that might otherwise go untreated.

“We are really trying to use the mitigation engine on some of these subdivisions where property owners have done a lot but there are a few absent property owners.” Brad White, Assistant Chief with Grand Fire said. “We are also trying to help those who just don’t have the financial resources to get much done in their area,” he added. “We can help them out and make some progress.”

White serves as Chair of the Mitigation Subcommittee on the Wildfire Council and helps oversee the mitigation engine work at the administrative level. On the ground retired US Forest Service Firefighter and Engine Boss Paul Mintier largely oversees the mitigation engine crew.

“This is a very valuable project,” Mintier said. “Mitigation is a good thing to do. But sometimes homeowner’s can’t do it themselves and it isn’t a commercially desirable chunk of ground. We hope these projects will be links in the chain, where we can come in a modify that link to create a better overall fuel modification.”

Mintier added the mitigation crews are tailored to the specific work, depending on what training skills local firefighters are looking to develop. So far this year the mitigation engine has tackled two large projects. The first was conducted on Denver Water Board land south of the Stagecoach Meadows subdivision off County Road 5.

The second project occurred near Granby Ranch on a roughly four-acre strip of land immediately adjacent the Ten Mile Estates subdivision.

“Ten Mile has done a lot of mitigation work,” White said. “This was sort of a little piece to help connect their efforts.”

The mitigation engine is staffed with firefighters from the various fire departments working on a rotational basis. The engine typically operates with a standard crew of four but has seen as many as six at one time, depending upon personnel availability.

Work done by the mitigation engine is not free. Property owners must pay for the service, which is typically billed at a rate similar to what the various fire departments bill one another for mutual aid calls. According to White though the Wildfire Council and various departments are offering in-kind aid, in this instance reduced fees, when the mitigation engine is called upon.

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