FireWise of Southwest Colorado has announced a fundraising effort to fill a gap in its budget after losing county funding.
The loss in funding comes amid a dry season in which the snowpack in the Southwest Colorado is 46 percent of its average and Montezuma County is in extreme drought.
“If the current drought situation doesn’t quickly turn around, I’m afraid of what this wildfire season will look like locally,” Steve Underwood, retired fire management officer for Mesa Verde National Park, said in a news release from Firewise.
Montezuma County commissioners recently eliminated financial support for FireWise of Southwest Colorado and its Neighborhood Ambassador Program, which provides education and technical support to help residents prepare for wildfire.
Rebecca Samulski, assistant director of FireWise, said that the “loss of funding has created a gap in our 2018 funds that supports wildfire preparedness and education in Montezuma County.”
In the past week, controlled burns got out of control in McElmo Canyon just east of the Sand Canyon Trailhead. No injuries were reported, but the fire singed a hay barn and threatened a trailer home. The burn kicked up during high winds on a red flag day, when open fires are banned in unincorporated Montezuma County.
A second fire on Monday near Ismay, at the Utah border, singed 7 acres of private land, and fire crews continued to douse hot spots on Tuesday. The cause of the fire was attributed to a controlled burn that had not been extinguished.
Several fires and controlled burns that have gotten away in recent days in Montezuma and La Plata counties.
On March 30, a fire destroyed a barn and all its contents. The same day, an uncontrolled burn fire on County Road 22 spread to a neighboring property and damaged a fence.
On March 31, the Montezuma County sheriff and the Pleasant View fire department responded to a brush fire on Road 10. The fire started after embers from a campfire landed in grass and brush.
Shawn Bittle, assistant chief of the Cortez Fire Protection District, said on Monday that he expected a busy fire season.
To help recover from the budget cut, FireWise is hosting Living with Wildfire, a resource fair and fundraiser to help fill the gap, the news release said. The event will include educational booths, demonstrations, dance bands, and live and silent auctions.
“It will be an occasion to raise awareness, have fun, and move forward,” said Amanda Brenner-Cannon, coordinator of FireWise’s Montezuma Chapter.
The event will be held at the Mancos Brewing Co. on April 28, 2018, from 1–9 p.m. The cover charge is $10 at the door; $8 pre-registration; and free for those 16 and under.
Special guests include Smokey Bear and dance bands Little Brother at 1–3 p.m., Carute Roma at 3–5:30 p.m. and the Afrobeatniks at 6–9 p.m. The live auction will start at 5:30 p.m. with auctioneer Larry Don Suckla. Food and beverages will be provided by the Mancos Brewery and the Blue Pepper food truck.
To buy tickets and find event details, see FireWise of Southwest Colorado’s website at: www.southwestcoloradofires.org or find FireWise of Southwest Colorado on Facebook.