Homeowners can help protect home from fires Grand County Wildfire Council can help mitigate

photo by Kim Cameron | Lieutenant Toni Russell explains simple things homeowners can do to help firefighting efforts.
photo by Kim Cameron | Lieutenant Toni Russell explains simple things homeowners can do to help firefighting efforts.

by Marissa Lorenz

Members of the Hot Sulphur Springs Parshall Fire Protection District (HSSPFPD) and the Grand County Wildfire Council recently joined in welcoming citizens to a community fire prevention presentation and open house to discuss best fire mitigation and prevention practices and educate the community on various resources available to them, including fire risk assessments and fire mitigation reimbursement. The meeting was timely, coinciding with a return to warmer weather (maybe?) and the nearing of wildfire season.
Residents will remember a busy fire season in Grand County last summer, with major fires such as the Sugar Loaf Fire near Ute Pass, the Golf Course Fire in Grand Lake, and the Silver Creek Fire near Kremmling, some of which prompted mandatory evacuations and the last of which burned over 20,000 acres. In preparation for the upcoming season, the partner agencies have been working diligently and hope to have active engagement from the community in order to keep our homes, neighborhoods, and forests safe.

Toni Russell, Lieutenant at the HSSPFD and a Certified Wildfire Mitigation Specialist, presented a PowerPoint with accompanying handouts to increase understanding of what homeowners and business can do to reduce the risk of home ignition (read- FIRE!) by identifying three zones of concern around a property. The idea of ignition zones has been developed over the last 20 years and incorporates “breakthrough experimental research into how homes ignite due to the effects of radiant heat.” The three zones are known as the immediate zone, the intermediate zone, and the extended zone and each requires different levels of preparedness in order to best protect your home or structure.

● IMMEDIATE ZONE (0-5 feet from the edge of the structure) – This is the most important zone and all homeowners and home dwellers are encouraged to give attention to this area. Taken together, these efforts help to prevent embers from reaching and penetrating your home.
○ Keep roofs and gutters clearfrom leaves and other debris.
○ Replace and/or repair any missing shingles or roof tiles.
○ Install ⅛ inch metal mesh screening over any exterior vents or openings.
○ Store flammable materials, such as firewood piles and mulch, outside of this area.
○ Remove anything stored under decks or porches.
○ Be prepared to remove furniture or soft cushions from patio areas in case of fire.

● INTERMEDIATE ZONE (5-30 feet from structure) – The focus here
should be on “careful landscaping or creating breaks that can influence and decrease fire behavior.”
○ Clear vegetation from under and around stationary propane tanks.
○ Create fuel breaks with driveways, walkways, and patios.
○ Keep lawns and native grasses mowed to 4-inches.
○ Keep trees and shrubs welltrimmed and in small clusters with a minimum of 18 feet between canopies.
○ Remove undergrowth to prevent fire from reaching fire canopy.

● EXTENDED ZONE (30-200 feet from structure) – These tips are to help interrupt the path of a fire, keeping flames small and low, though not necessarily the elimination of fire.
○ Remove heavy accumulations of ground litter and debris.
○ Remove dead plant and tree material.
○ Remove small conifers growing between mature trees.
○ Remove vegetation adjacent to sheds or outbuildings.
○ Maintain spacing between tree clusters of at least 12 feet between canopies from 30 60 feet from main structure and at least 6 feet from 60-100 feet from main structure.

Russell and Adam Gosey of East Grand Fire and the Grand County Wildfire Council pointed to the fact that these precautions will not only help to fortify your home in case of fire, but that these steps are critical both in the safety of firefighters responding to an incident and even in the decision of firefighters to attempt to save your structure.

Gosey stressed that the decision to work to save a structure in case of wildfire is a deliberate decision.

“We’re trying to save it for strategic reasons, not because it’s special or particularly valuable, but because it protects all the houses and community behind it as well.” Russell showed an image of a home without any mitigation and emphasized that, where a structure is so-called threatened but non-defensible, “We’re not going to do anything. There is nothing to do. It’s going to burn.” Whereas, Gosey explained that a fire wave that does not have excess fuel to ignite a home can pass over a home in under a minute.

Russell also conveyed the importance of Temporary Refuge Areas (TRA) in preparedness planning, pre-determining areas where firefighters may find short-term shelter and relief during an incident. This could be anything from a large lawn or parking area without overhanging branches These areas give responders a safe place to rest and regather in the midst of a difficult and high pressure job. She reminded attendees that “your mitigated property could not only save your structure, but also save your firefighters.”

Gosey then educated the attendees on the role of the non-profit Wildfire Council in fire prevention education, collection of fire safety and risk data, and raising funds for fire safety throughout the county, including seeking grant funding from state and federal sources. He and Russell introduced a current grant reward that will pay for fire risk assessments and may provide partial reimbursement for fire mitigation efforts. As part of a national research program, assessments are being done in Copper Creek and Aspen Canyon and will be accompanied by a written survey to help determine disconnects in fire safety/risk awareness and preparedness and mitigation activities. Survey results will be made immediately available to respondents and data will be used to create more effective fire safety programs.

Any other Grand County homeowners or residents may also request an assessment of their property without participation in the survey. Russell stated that the HSSPFPD will provide assessments to anyone in their districts and could work with the Kremmling Fire Department for assessments in Kremmling.

Applications for mitigation reimbursement can be made to the Wildfire Council and can be approved before work is done. Reimbursement is not guaranteed, but may be approved for up to 50% of the costs or $125/acre. Reimbursement may be more likely for neighborhoods or groups of neighbors coordinating mitigation activities.

Finally, the two reminded the community of the free chipping days scheduled throughout the county. Slash will be chipped and hauled away at no cost from 10am to 3pm on the following dates. 6/29 in Kremmling, 7/13 at the Grand Lake Columbine Fire Station, 7/27 at East Grand Fire Headquarters, 8/10 at Parshall Fire Station, and 8/28 at Grand Fire Headquarters. Visit the Wildfire Council’s website for specific details.

More Information on the HSSPFPD and Grand County Wildfire Council can be found at HotSulphurFire.com