May 2 is National Wildfire Preparedness Day
At a recent wildfire conference in Tucson, Arizona, we took a field trip up Mount Lemmon to view, among other things, the community of Summerhaven, which was heavily affected by the Aspen fire in 2002. Listening to one of their volunteer firefighters talk about how she had lost her home, her business and watched as more than 70 percent of their community went up in flames was an emotional and poignant reminder of why I work with residents to help them become better prepared for wildfire.
In just more than a month, on May 2, the nation will be celebrating National Wildfire Preparedness Day. Not that you need to wait until then to start your preparedness efforts, but sometimes a day like this is a good one to rally your neighbors around.
There are endless opportunities – organize a community workday and thin some shrubs and small trees along your road right-of-way or in your community’s open space. Your neighbors might appreciate the opportunity to get an early start on gathering firewood! Find a disabled or elderly neighbor who needs some pine needles raked or lower tree limbs cut and offer to help for three to four hours. Or help your neighbors develop an evacuation plan. Other ideas can be found at www.wildfireprepday.org.
We know of several projects that will be happening here in Southwest Colorado. At Vallecito, they will be making reflective address signs for properties in the area that don’t have them. Remember, emergency responders can’t help you if they can’t find you.
In Archuleta County, Pagosa Fire Protection District and some FireWise Ambassadors will be teaming to conduct Wildland Urban Interface Checkpoints. Never heard of them? They are checkpoints set up in WUI subdivisions, usually at the single access point to a community, where residents are stopped and given information about their wildfire risk.
Our FireWise Chapter in Montezuma County is currently hosting an essay contest for middle school students, and the winner’s home will receive a “FireWise Makeover.” The makeover might include the creation of defensible space and/or hardening of the homesite, such as gravel for 3-5 feet around the home, screening under decking or raking of pine needles. Our project was fortunate to receive one of 65 awards given by State Farm Insurance for a community project. We’ll be looking for some volunteers, so let us know if you can donate a few hours to a good cause.
FireWise can help support your efforts in a variety of ways. If you’re not sure where to get started, call for a property assessment and get recommendations on needed work. Invite us to visit with your homeowner’s association; we have lots of educational materials. And watch for our Chipper Rental Rebate Program, which will begin Wednesday.
As I was reminded in Tucson, the effects of a devastating wildfire don’t stop when the fire passes or even 10 years later; they may be with you for a lifetime. Be a good steward and a good neighbor and start working on your property now.
Pam Wilson is the Executive Director for FireWise of Southwest Colorado and can be reached at 385-8909 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The San Juan Mountains Associations serves as the fiscal agent for FireWise.