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A plan for reducing wildfire threat

With wildfires unfortunately becoming more common in western Colorado, as across the West, addressing the threat must become a bigger priority for local governments.

Garfield County government is taking a responsible step in this direction by working with state and federal agencies on a countywide fire plan.

The plan will focus on fire protection and prevention, and firefighting, particularly on the thousands of acres of private land that don’t fall under the jurisdiction of any local fire protection district.



It should also serve as an opportunity to look more closely at wildfire issues countywide and what steps can be taken to address them.

Garfield County is far-flung, stretching from the Carbondale area to Utah. In areas from up in Spring Valley to west of Parachute/Battlement Mesa, scattered properties that lie outside fire districts still are capable of burning – and spreading to forests or more populated areas, leading to major, destructive wildfires.



Technically, responsibility for these fires falls to the county sheriff’s department. But it’s not a firefighting agency on its own. What it can do is play a role in arranging and coordinating firefighting coverage of these areas.

The fire plan effort should help in clarifying what agreements involving local, state and federal firefighting agencies already exist, and making sure the proper agreements are in place for the future.

It also provides an opportunity to size up fire hazards countywide, and identify areas where fuel-reduction projects such as cutting or controlled burning could be helpful, and perhaps could be coordinated with projects on adjacent public lands.

It’s a good time to be scoping out such projects. The federal Healthy Forests Initiative provides funding aimed at reducing wildfire danger, including in the so-called urban/wildland interface where the danger to residents is the greatest.

In pursuing a fire plan, the county also will be able to tap the Colorado State Forest Service’s expertise in mapping wildfire hazard areas and planning mitigation efforts.

Hopefully the federal Bureau of Land Management will come through with $18,000 being sought for the project. The BLM and U.S. Forest Service both benefit when fire plans are implemented on nearby private lands. Fires respect no property boundaries. In addition, federal firefighting teams end up battling some wildfires not in federal jurisdictions.

As the county fire planning effort progresses, perhaps the greatest good can be done by focusing attention on the matter of development that occurs in wildfire-prone zones. It’s not a trend that’s likely to be reversed, but the wildfire danger should be considered in development reviews. Simple factors such as where homes are placed in developments, what landscaping is planned and what water sources are made available can make a big difference in how a home fares when a wildfire threatens.

Existing homes can also benefit from landscaping and related wildfire advice of the kind agencies such as the State Forest Service are able to give. The county would be doing its citizens a service by helping foster wildfire education and mitigation programs, considering the hard lessons recent local fires already have taught us all.Existing homes can also benefit from landscaping and related wildfire advice of the kind agencies such as the State Forest Service are able to give. The county would be doing its citizens a service by helping foster wildfire education and mitigation programs, considering the hard lessons recent local fires already have taught us all.


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