$50,000 donation from FirstBank aimed at Basalt-area wildfire mitigation
Basalt officials are carrying through with a pledge to lead by example on wildfire mitigation — with big help from FirstBank.
The bank made a $50,000 donation to Basalt and the Roaring Fork Valley portion of Eagle County for wildfire recovery and mitigation.
Basalt will use as much as $5,000 to assist with vegetation thinning on a hillside across Midland Spur from Lions Park. Basalt Fire Chief Scott Thompson previously expressed concern about the rat’s nest of old, decadent brush on the hillside. It is adjacent to where vendors set up for the Sunday farmers’ market. Thompson said sparks from a cooking stove or an attendee’s errant, discarded cigarette butt could spark a fire and threaten several homes.
Town Manager Ryan Mahoney said the town would consult with the fire district on planning the project and likely enlist a special crew trained in mitigation from the Rifle Correctional Center next spring.
In the wake of last summer’s Lake Christine Fire, Town Council members discussed the need to honor first responders by undertaking mitigation that reduces the risk of further wildfires. The demonstration project is intended to inspire individual homeowners to look at their own properties.
FirstBank’s donation will be available to assist homeowners. Up to $2,500 will be available per individual defensible space or home ignition zone project.
Council members were thrilled with the contribution.
“Fifty thousand doesn’t fall out of the sky on this small town very often,” Councilman Auden Schendler said.
Projects must be coordinated through the Basalt and Rural Fire Protection District and Eagle County’s wildfire mitigation department. Details on the application process will be released next year.
The members of the partnership estimate the funds will prepare more than 50 homes and properties covering at least 30 acres.
“What we’re ultimately trying to do is create a fire-adaptive community,” said Eric Lovgren, Eagle County wildfire mitigation coordinator.
FirstBank Roaring Fork Valley Market President Dave Portman presented the donation to the Basalt Town Council on Tuesday night and said he saw first-hand how the Lake Christine Fire affected so many area residents.
Portman and his family moved to Missouri Heights from the Eagle Valley on June 4. The fire broke out July 3 and forced them to evacuate. They experienced the stress of the fire threat and the gratefulness for the firefighters.
“It was amazing being part of that community rally (honoring) all the first responders,” Portman said.
Lovgren said the entire Roaring Fork Valley is linked by a threat of extreme wildfires. In the Eagle County portion of the valley, it is easier to count the homes that are outside the wildland-urban interface rather than the homes inside it, he said. That interface is where homes are in or adjacent to lands with forest, brush or grasses that are susceptible to wildfire.
Lovgren told The Aspen Times that 51 residences have been constructed in that interface zone in the Roaring Fork Valley portion of Eagle County in the past five years — that includes parts of Missouri Heights, Emma, the Fryingpan Valley, Basalt and El Jebel. Seventeen new residences were built in the wildland-urban interface in 2018 alone, he said.
Eagle County regulations make mitigation mandatory to get a certificate of occupancy. Nevertheless, a report by the Colorado State Forest Service said rapid growth in the interface zone is making Colorado more susceptible to catastrophic wildfires.
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Construction for the South Midland project is on schedule, though crews will continue to work on weekends to keep the course.