The Platte Canyon Fire Protection District has recognized for some time that the County Road 43 and Shelton Road areas present a potentially disastrous situation in the event of a wildfire.
Hundreds of structures located amidst an overabundance of condensed evergreens that could provide more than enough fuel for wildfires, are accessible by a two-lane road. Evacuation opportunities would be minimal in the event of a wildfire outbreak.
Many homes, Deer Creek Elementary School, IdRaHaJe Christian Camp and Retreat, and Tomahawk Ranch represent just a sampling of the structures that would stand in extreme peril in the event of a wildfire in that vicinity.
PCFPD identified the CR 43 area as an area of concern in 2006, and those concerns were later shared by Fire Adaptive Bailey, a nonprofit organization committed to significantly reducing the inevitable impacts to homes, businesses, schools, viewsheds, infrastructure, and watersheds due to a major wildfire event.
Funding issues, however, prevented badly-needed fire mitigation efforts from taking place at that time.
Finally, the two entities successfully joined forces to acquire a $300,000 Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to fire mitigate 150 acres on and around Deer Creek Elementary School, which was considered to be at the highest risk of wildfires amongst the educational institutions in the Platte Canyon School District.
The process of fire mitigating that area began in the latter part of 2017, and is now nearing completion. Selected trees, based on the health of those trees, as well as the location and proximity of those trees to other trees, have been removed to provide a healthier and more fire-safe surrounding.
“We began working farther up CR 43 a while back, and have worked down toward U.S. Highway 285 to the Deer Creek Elementary over time,” said PCFPD chief Joe Burgett said.
“We just need to wait until the students leave for summer break to finish and should be done some time in August. That represents one of the final priorities in that area identified in our Wildfire Protection Plan that was written in 2006.”
When asked if the fire mitigation project in those areas could have been completed without assistance from FEMA, Burgett responded, “Absolutely not.”
Fire Adaptive Bailey, under the leadership of President John Van Doren, and in conjunction with PCFPD, helps to provide a multi-pronged action plan for community-wide wildfire adaptation encompassing north Park County from Pine Junction to Kenosha Pass.
The 311-square mile area, which is comprised of 21 percent private land and 79 percent public land, is identical to the area considered to be within the Platte Canyon School District.
This area contains 68 subdivisions, 32 of which are considered to be at high risk of wildfires. At-risk locations include 5,500 housing units with a combined population of 9,500 people.
According to the Fire Adaptive Bailey website at www.fireadaptedbailey.org, the organization has “increased the area’s recognized Firewise USA Community Footprint from 15 percent to 40 percent of the residential parcel count. Additional subdivisions ‘on deck’ will bring us to 60 percent.”
Firewise USA is a federal recognition program targeted primarily at the subdivision level. It leverages the existing leadership of HOA’s, POA’s, and others, to drive fire mitigation efforts and awareness within a given subdivision.
Fire Adapted Communities, on the other hand, are part of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy that employs a three-pronged approach to achieving resilient landscapes, fire-adapted communities and safe and effective wildfire response.
Compared to Ready-Set-Go and Firewise USA, Fire Adapted Communities are asked to take a much broader community-wide view of wildfire preparedness. This includes a look from 10,000 feet at how well we are prepared as a community before, during and after a wildfire event.
Based on the momentum Fire Adapted Bailey has recently attained through crowdfunding, it will be receiving $100,000 in state-of-the-art wildfire modeling and analysis. This work will be done by the Rocky Mountain Research Center and will help to predict how wildfire will behave in our entire landscape, on both public and private lands.
Further analysis, in collaboration with PCFPD and the U.S. Forest Service, will include pre-planning for the worst-case wildfire scenarios. This will improve before and during wildfire readiness and help to strategically inform all fire mitigation efforts.
All of this modeling and analysis will be rolled into a new Community Wildfire Preparedness Plan.