A crowd gathered at Mancos Brewing Co. on Saturday for FireWise of Southwest Colorado’s Living with Wildfire fundraiser.
The afternoon event, which drew about 225 people, was designed to help fill a financial gap after the Montezuma County Board of Commissioners withdrew funding from the nonprofit.
Featuring silent and live auctions and plenty of local music, food and beer, the event raised almost $11,000 for FireWise, which Montezuma County coordinator Amanda Brenner-Cannon said exceeded the organization’s goal.
FireWise is a nonprofit that provides education about wildfire preparedness throughout Southwest Colorado, and its services may be increasingly relevant this year as exceptional drought conditions continue in Montezuma and La Plata counties. Montezuma County has been under a fire ban since April 16, and the Bureau of Land Management and San Juan National Forest started fire restrictions Tuesday that prohibit most campfires and grills on BLM and National Forest lands.
While Montezuma County hasn’t seen any large wildfires this year, smoke from a fire near Shiprock cast a haze over much of the county on Sunday and Monday.
Despite its ominous name, the atmosphere at the crowded “Living with Wildfire” event was cheerful. Attendees danced to music by the bands Little Brother, Carute Roman and the Afrobeatniks while Cortez’s Blue Pepper food truck served meals and the brewery served drinks.
FireWise volunteers also set up an informational booth where kids could play with a model of a landscape demonstrating how water flows through the county, and adults could read up on wildfire prevention tips. Advice like “keep grass short” and “stack firewood away from structures” was written on a blackboard next to a map of Montezuma County that showed areas where FireWise plans to hold evacuation drills and other events for Wildfire Preparedness Day on May 5.
Much of FireWise’s work is done through neighborhood ambassadors who educate their neighbors about fire danger. One volunteer, Greg Kemp, said Saturday’s fundraiser was designed to recruit ambassadors as well as to raise money. The group has a very small full-time staff, he said, and the leaders want to reach more people during wildfire season.
“We especially want to help people who are new to the area and haven’t had any experience living in forested areas with fire danger,” he said.
Brenner-Cannon said on Tuesday she believed the event had been a success, and thanked the largest sponsor, retired Mesa Verde fire management officer Steve Underwood, for making it possible.
“We’re just trying to get our name out there and help as many people as possible,” she said.
FireWise ambassadors in Southwest Colorado will be conducting neighborhood events throughout May for Wildfire Preparedness Month. More information can be found on the group’s Facebook page or by contacting Brenner-Cannon at [email protected]