La Plata County and the San Juan National Forest fire management staff are implementing Stage 1 Fire Restrictions on all national forest lands effective at midnight on Wednesday, June 16th. KSUT’s Sarah Flower reports:

Wildfire smoke obscures the view in the San Juan National Forest.

Story Transcript:

Sarah Flower  00:00

The National Interagency Fire Center is predicting Southwest Colorado to have above normal risk for wildfire danger. And without monsoonal precipitation, that increase is expected to continue throughout the summer and potentially into the fall. As the San Juan National Forest implements Stage One Fire Restrictions, they join the Southern Ute Indian Tribe in taking preventative measures against wildfires. For the Forest Service, Stage One Fire Restrictions include prohibiting fires, campfires, and stove fires, including charcoal grills, hibachi, and coal or wood burning stoves. You can however have a fire in Forest Service provided manufactured fire grates and grills within Forest Service developed campgrounds and picnic grounds. On the Southern Ute Reservation Stage One Restrictions prohibit burning trash and yard waste, agricultural burning, and possession, discharging or use of any type of firework. Ashley Downing is the executive director of Wildfire Adapted Partnership or WAP.  Their mission is to improve the readiness and response to wildfires throughout the five counties in southwest Colorado, including Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma, and San Juan. Downing says educating yourself on wildfire danger and being proactive in mitigation efforts will help the entire community.

Ashley Downing  01:22

I think the mentality for a lot of buyers in the West is trying to move towards focusing on the mitigation before fires happen rather than suppression. So working towards that and trying to get more grant funding to help individuals to help organizations like us work with community members to get acres treated on the ground, but also in the education component because we have a lot of people who move here who don’t know what it means to live in the wildland urban interface. I do anticipate that some of the mega fires and just fires in general, especially as the drought conditions continue will always be a threat. But we’re hoping to change the mentality of looking at trying to do this work before it becomes too late. And so we can be proactive rather than reactive.

Sarah Flower  02:07

Downing says WAP conducts bi-monthly meetings with regional partners and works closely with their roughly 150 volunteer neighborhood ambassadors to help share mitigation efforts throughout the region. But with the drought all over the west below average snowpack, low soil moisture and dry vegetation, these factors only increase the risk of wildfire danger. And Downing says it’s important to be prepared.

Ashley Downing  02:33

Fire adaptation efforts, they’re never ending, you know, stuff grows back. So waiting until there’s smoke in the air, it’s going to be a rush and we are very small organizations. So being proactive, you know, thinking of the little steps that you can take now before it becomes an issue. And that could be as simple as signing up for the Emergency Alert System in your county: So Code Red in La Plata, Nixle in Montezuma and Archuleta counties, and planning for evacuation. So having an evacuation to-go bag that you can do if there’s a five minute notice, if it’s 15, or even if you have an hour. So I think that there’s some baby steps there that everyone can do to really be prepared.

Sarah Flower  03:11

Downing says her team conducts hour long visits with residents to see how they can best keep their property safe. In addition to having 100 feet of defensible space for your home, Downing offers other quick tips, including clearing all pine needles off the roof, raking them away from the house within 10 feet, and to mow grasses. She also suggests that residents make sure their decks are clear as well.

Ashley Downing  03:36

Another big one is moving woodpiles, which a lot of people store under decks or right next to the house, and moving that 30 feet away from the house is always a good thing when the fire risk is really high. And also just clearing out anything else under the deck. So those are the real weak points, the roof and the decks that people can clear out now ahead of time before it might be too late.

Sarah Flower  03:56

Reporting for KSUT News, I’m Sarah Flower.

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KSUT’s Wildfire Resources Page has updated links to track fires and smoke impacts.