Leaders want more wildfire mitigation

Evergreen Fire admonished for little progress in preparing for the worst

Olivia Jewell Love and Deb Hurley Brobst
olove@coloradocommunitymedia.com dbrobst@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 10/18/21

A group of Evergreen Fire/Rescue community leaders told the fire board that they were frustrated by what they called a lack of progress on wildfire mitigation in the district. In addition, they asked …

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Leaders want more wildfire mitigation

Evergreen Fire admonished for little progress in preparing for the worst

Posted

A group of Evergreen Fire/Rescue community leaders told the fire board that they were frustrated by what they called a lack of progress on wildfire mitigation in the district.

In addition, they asked what they could do to help district officials implement recommendations from the fire district's 2020 Community Wildfire Protection Plan, known as the CWPP.

Cindy Latham, representing 39 leadership team members for Community Wildfire Protection Implementation Plans or CWPIPs, asked the board at its meeting on Oct. 12 whether wildfire prevention and mitigation were priorities because she said they have seen little progress on the CWPP recommendations to be prepared in case of a catastrophic wildfire.

She asked that EFR's slash chipping crew be dedicated solely to that work rather than being detailed to fires in other places, that the department perform 1,000 home fire-risk assessments per year, that obtaining grants to help pay for wildfire mitigation, especially along evacuation routes, become a priority, and that meetings between EFR wildland fire personnel and the community leaders return to a regular schedule.

Latham and others who attended the meeting asked a host of questions, and board members didn't answer them immediately but promised they would provide responses. Board member John Anderson said the district would put responses on the EFR website.

Background

Residents have been attending EFR board meetings since June to ask for more assistance with mitigation along evacuation routes, especially since the CWPP notes that many evacuation routes are unsurvivable in case of a catastrophic wildfire.

Insurance companies rank areas around the country that are at high risk for catastrophic wildfire, and the Evergreen/Conifer area is in the top 10, EFR spokeswoman Stacee Martin has said. Some insurance companies rank this area No. 1.

According to the CWPP analysis, only Bergen Park is considered a low-risk area for wildfire, with Buffalo Creek North, Kerr Gulch, Soda Creek and Evergreen Meadows considered at moderate risk. The other 18 communities in the plan are considered at high, very high or extremely high risk.

The report makes recommendations for mitigation work in 23 areas in the district and delineates 13 shelter-in-place locations within neighborhoods that residents could drive to and potentially survive the flames of a wildfire.

More frustration

Latham said in her presentation that residents want their tax dollars spent to mitigate evacuation routes, to create fuel breaks that could help stop wildfires, to do more mitigation of public land and to apply for grants to help fund the work.

Fire Chief Mike Weege told about 50 people at the meeting that EFR has 5.5 full-time employees dedicated to the department's wildland group plus 10 seasonal employees. However, he noted that EFR encompasses 120 square miles, and it would take decades to do all of the mitigation work.

“It's a nonstop process,” he said. “There is work being done, and we're happy to try to educate the community on what they do with this private property.”

One resident expressed the frustration that many in the room felt.

“What people in the community need is to learn what we need to do to make our roadway safe,” he said. “What do we do to make defensible space around our homes? We want to get started, but we need input from people in (EFR's) wildland division. What we crave is their time.”

Latham hopes the discussion at the board meeting will motivate EFR officials to be more responsive to the community's wishes and to do more regarding wildfire mitigation.

“There's a ton of work to do,” Latham said in an interview. “It's creating a lot of concerns for potential loss of life and property. We need better partners (in EFR), better strategic planning. Residents can't solve it alone. We need to have leadership in our wildland group to figure out how to coordinate these efforts.”

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