Lack of wildfire mitigation was recently named as a major contributor to the Fourmile Canyon fire in 2010, triggering an Oct. 17 discussion with two area fire chiefs.

Salida Fire Chief Don Taylor and Chaffee County Fire Protection District Chief Jim Wingert discussed defensible space with The Mountain Mail, and Taylor said mitigation of the area around a home should be done twice annually - spring and fall.

"It's a continual effort. People should mitigate year round (because) the fire season is pretty much year round. The wildfire season is expanding and population is expanding into rural areas," he said.

Reducing large ladder fuels such as low branches is a good way to prevent spread of ground wildfire into trees, Taylor said.

He said ground fire is easier to extinguish than it is high in trees or homes. Fire climbs trees faster than it moves on the ground, he said.

"Duff," leaves and pine needles, should be removed from the area around homes because they act as ground fuel.

Taylor said the Fourmile Canyon fire began with an unattended slash fire, and people should follow burn guidelines because "we can't estimate how long it takes embers to lose their heat."

Wingert said, "Prevention is key. If we can prevent a wildfire from spreading to a home, that's the ultimate goal of mitigation and defensible space."

He said as awareness "gets out" people are realizing there is a benefit to mitigation.

Two recent subdivisions in Chaffee County, Game Trail and Alpine, "stepped up" and made a plan, but Wingert said there are several other communities and subdivisions with plans already in place.

Firewood should not be stacked under or on a wooden deck, but away from the home, he said, and suggested covering woodpiles to prevent sparks from setting the pile aflame.

He said additional information is available on the Chaffee County Community Wildlife Protection Plan website at wildlifeplan.org and at the Colorado Forest Service office in Salida.

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall (D) announced availability of the U.S. Forest Service report and said homeowners should create defensible space around their homes because it is the best defense against wildland fire.

The report was done at Udall's request so government agencies and homeowners can better prepare for future fire emergencies.

Udall said, "When news about the Fourmile Canyon fire started coming in ... I wanted to know how we could learn from this tragedy.

"That fire taught us the most important yard tool you can have if you live in a wildfire-prone area is not a chainsaw - it's a rake and a weed-whacker."

Research found the condition of the Home Ignition Zone - design, materials and maintenance of the home and the area 100 feet around it - was critical to whether a home survived the Fourmile Canyon Fire.

Adobe and non-wood homes where homeowners had removed flammable ground material such as pine needles, grass and even wooden decks, were more likely to survive.

The preliminary report is at www.fs.fed.us/rmrs.

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