Central Colorado Conservancy board president Cindy Williams said Tuesday that a targeted investment in fire mitigation and forest health can make a big difference in wildfire protection.
Williams said there’s a relatively small portion of the forest that would need to be treated to have an impact in mitigating fire danger.
The conservancy, as well as several county and state agencies, is in the middle of putting together a Community Wildfire Protection Plan, which Williams said should be completed early next year.
Last week in Poncha Springs and Buena Vista, residents viewed maps that showed predicted burn probablilties for different areas of the county and areas of the county that are more susceptible to large flames.
Those probabilities were studied to determine where things the community values (human lives, infrastructure, recreation, etc.) are more likely to be damaged by fires (composite wildfire risk). Those areas were studied to determine where fuel treatment is most important and cost effective.
High-risk areas for fires included places east of U.S. 285 from Hecla Junction to Johnson Village and west of the corridor near Hecla Junction, as well as spots south/southwest of Salida (where the Decker Fire is currently burning) and near Turret.
Places where large flames are more probable dot Chaffee County, with particular concentrations running from Salida north to Buena Vista along U.S. 285, south of Poncha Springs and Salida, west of Hecla Junction and on Poncha Pass.
When probabilities are combined with locations where valued assets are at risk, composite wildfire risk is highest south of Salida (near where the Decker Fire is burning), in areas around Hecla Junction, near Mount Princeton Hot Springs, near Browns Canyon National Monument and a few other places.
Fuel treatment priority areas included spots south of Poncha Springs, in the Turret area, near Mount Princeton Hot Springs, north of Buena Vista and along the U.S. 285 corridor east of Nathrop and west of Hecla Junction.
County Commissioner Greg Felt said the data is useful in figuring out what to do in the event of a large fire, such as the Decker Fire.
Williams said she thought many meeting attendees were surprised to learn that many of the wildfire risks and treatment areas are closer to towns, as opposed to high up in spruce forests.
Next the conservancy will take all the input from the meetings and make sure any issues with the plans so far are addressed. They’ll formulate a plan for how treatments will be implemented, Williams said.
Williams said she was impressed by how engaged the community has been.
“It’s exciting to see the community so involved in this,” she said.