FireWise Residents deserve to be prepared for wildfires

Muddy 2 fire on July 14, taken by Dani Long, from the Park Point lookout tower. Enlargephoto

Courtesy photo

Muddy 2 fire on July 14, taken by Dani Long, from the Park Point lookout tower.

I stood overlooking the Four Corners from Park Point Fire Tower in Mesa Verde National Park. It was a hot, gray day with chances of thunderstorms in the 20-40 percent range, which means some lightning and not a lot of rain, at least for the lower elevations.

You can hear the hustle on the radio as the fire departments and public lands agencies report chase smoke calls and small fires. Dani Long – who can see most of these fires from the only regularly staffed lookout tower in Montezuma County – is first to report a lot of the fires.

I saw lightning strike west of Cortez, coming from a small, puffy, dark cloud. Within a couple of minutes, Long spotted smoke about a quarter mile from the western edge of Cortez. I think about the homes along the rim of Harman draw where I’ve noticed fire scars, clusters of tree skeletons where a pocket of trees burned.

Whether started by lightning or human, wildfires can become a part of our lives on any day in Montezuma County. Across Colorado, Headwaters Economics has figured that “a quarter of all homes are located in areas at high risk for wildfires.” Montezuma County is probably more on the order of 40-50 percent of the homes that are at least at moderate risk. If you’re among the at-risk residents, don’t be embarrassed to seek help. There are thousands of local residents who also struggle with forest management.

Some residents need a little support, and others have very limited ability to manage their wildfire risk on. Some are caught as renters, perhaps on property that backs up against a large parcel where no mitigation work has been done. Others have lost the physical ability or their partner that used to do the chain saw work. Many working families don’t have the tools, money, or time to do all that they need to prepare for wildfires.

If you know someone who owns a home and is in this situation, or live in a neighborhood that could benefit from a fuel break, Montezuma County is fortunate to be piloting a wildfire risk-reduction program for homeowners and communities that demonstrate need this fall. For more information, contact FireWise of Southwest Colorado as soon as possible at 564-7860. The deadline for applications is Aug. 4, 2014.

Aside from a homeowner’s responsibility, perhaps you are in a business where you can make little changes that will make a big difference in the vulnerability of county residents: giving tips on local resources; suggesting a wildfire resistant detail in a building project; offering a wildfire resistant plant choice rather than a flashy creeping juniper for that foundation planting; or replacing the spark arrester after each chimney cleaning. If you are a professional that has an impact on how people live in the county, please consider attending a Wildfire Preparedness for Professionals seminar at First National Bank from 6-7:30 p.m., also on Aug. 4.

Take advantage of these and other opportunities to make your home, your family, and your community more prepared for wildfires. The fire lookout who reports the smoke rising in the midst of scattered homes and the firefighters who have contained 91 fires in Southwest Colorado so far this year can take a breath when we know that homes and residents are ready.

Rebecca Samulski is Montezuma County coordinator of FireWise of Southwest Colorado.