The results of a Chaffee County wildfire survey taken by 1,035 residents in 2019 revealed what locals would like to prioritize in case of a wildfire.

Residents thought the most valuable things in an emergency were, in order: life, water, infrastructure, homes, wildlife, views and recreation.

The results also revealed that residents view insects and fires as the biggest perceived threats to forest health, with visitors coming in second.

More than 80 percent of respondents believe a major fire will happen within the next five years. However, 40 percent said they do not have an evacuation plan and more than half are unsure of what to do to decrease risk on their personal property or where to go for information.

Surveyed residents strongly support forest treatment measures. About 84 percent of respondents had “no concern” about land management activities such as thinning trees. In addition, 73 percent thought the activities would improve habitats for wildlife.

The survey was conducted through four public meetings. Participants were questioned on wildfire awareness, preparedness and mitigation activities.

Members of the Forest Health Council collectively spent about 1,500 hours sifting through survey results.

The forests of Chaffee County and the Upper Arkansas River Basin are critical water sources for local towns, 1 million people downstream and the city of Aurora, the Forest Health Council reported. The water also provides 102 miles of Gold Medal fishing streams as well as recreational opportunities on the most rafted river in the U.S.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife deer collar data revealed that wildlife in eight counties rely on Chaffee County’s winter habitat.

Wildfires are also a threat to local electricity sources, such as power lines that support the San Luis Valley as well as the U.S. 50 corridor.

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