RIO GRANDE NATIONAL FOREST — Just in the past few days, the United States Forest Service announced that America’s forests were, “In a state of fire emergency.” The organization also stated that nearly one-quarter of the contiguous United States remains at moderate to very high risk of severe wildfires.
This is all too well known here in southwest Colorado and here in the San Luis Valley as acres and acres of dead or dying trees surround Valley communities such as South Fork, but there are ways to help mitigate a potential fire emergency. Rio Grande National Forest (RGNF) in partnership with South Fork Fire Rescue and other local stakeholders are working to put a plan in place and use it to educate local communities.
The RGNF has been drafting a Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) for the immediate area around South Fork and the surrounding forest area in the Rio Grande National Forest. The plan will be a roadmap for local communities to pinpoint current fire danger and navigate ways to ensure the continued safety of the community.
Communities like South Fork reside in what is termed a Wildland Urban Interface, meaning the community is faced with potential wildland fire situations.
According to the draft plan, “A community wildfire protection plan (CWPP) is a blueprint and an action strategy for prioritizing the protection of life, property and critical infrastructure in your community. A CWPP allows a community to evaluate its current situation with regards to wildfire risk and plan ways to reduce risk for protection of human welfare and other important economic, social or ecological values. CWPPs help protect and prepare communities in the event of a wildfire. If your community resides in the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) and you believe there is a risk of wildfire, a CWPP can be excellent tool to gain community support to raise awareness about wildfire threat and to gain support to mitigate hazards. The WUI is any area where structures and other human developments meet or intermingle with wildland vegetative fuels.”
The draft plan was prepared by Adam Moore, Supervisory Forester, and Sam Scavo, a Forester out of the Alamosa Field Office for the Colorado State Forest Service.
Moore and South Fork Fire Rescue Fire Resource Officer Ben Webster hosted a community meeting to introduce the Community Wildfire Protection Plan, a step that begins the process of finalizing the document.
“This is a living document that will continue to change as needs change. We want to be proactive to safeguard our communities and use fire mitigation to ensure the continued safety of those that live here,” Webster said.
“We need the community to be as involved as possible. This plan really comes down to private resident and landowners and what they can do to help mitigate for a potential wildland fire situation. We recently learned from the Boulder County incident that it doesn’t matter where you are, fire can always be a potential risk. There are ways to mitigate it though and could be just as simple as cleaning out your gutters or trimming your landscaping around any structures,” Webster said.
Though the plan is in the draft phase, they will be working with other communities including representatives from Rio Grande County, Mineral County, Del Norte Fire District and community emergency managers to finalize the plan.
“We work with communities, community leaders, stakeholders, the Rio Grande National Forest and Bureau of Land Management to identify problems and mitigate accordingly. We need the community to work with us and do the same,” Webster said.
For more information, visit www.southforkfirerescue.com.