As wildfire season approaches, residents of the Falls Creek Ranch subdivision met at Durango Fire and Rescue Station 13 to discuss fire mitigation and prevention techniques for their community.
Saturday’s annual event, which was organized by resident Paulette Church, was attended by about 40 residents of the Falls Creek Ranch subdivision and featured guest speakers, a firefighting helicopter presentation, a mock evacuation drill and specific fire-mitigation plans for the subdivision.
The Falls Creek Ranch community, northwest of Durango, has been organizing this event since 2011as an effort to help mitigate fire danger around residents’ personal property and to be prepared in the event of an emergency. Church said the subdivision logs more than 3,000 hours of volunteer work on fire mitigation in their subdivision over the course of a summer.
“I’ve lived here for 13 years now, and I would say in the last 10 years we’ve really made wonderful efforts to mitigate our property and educate our residents,” said attendee Mary Ann Bryant. “It’s brought everyone together. We have great resources here with Southwest Firewise and the forest service. They know our area very well, and they help us and give us advice.”
Residents of the subdivision are wary that conditions this year could be worse than in previous years. Eric Eden, a forester with the Colorado State Forest Service, said drought conditions are similar to those in 2002, when the Missionary Ridge Fire broke out. He also warned that the current drought is predicted to persist until the end of June.
Attendees learned the importance of tending to their own property and checking on potential fire hazards before they can become a problem, said Charles Landsman, Firewise’s La Plata County coordinator.
“Residents are really responsible for creating their own destiny when it comes to this,” he said. “We have good scientific evidence to support that mitigation works. The only person who can make this happen is residents on their own property. They have to want to do this in order to protect their homes.”
Landsman encouraged residents to check their homes, specifically their balconies and decks, for fire hazards. He also encouraged residents to clean up trees and shrubs that could potentially be a hazard, such as pine needles, scraggly oak and long grass, so that if a fire does occur, it’s harder to spread.
“The look we’re going for is that clean look where we want to reduce the amount of vegetation in the forest and break things up so that things are isolated,” he said.
The event also featured a helicopter demonstration, which showcased a water lift and drop. Attendees also received to-go bags that featured an evacuation checklist, an outline of all levels of fire restrictions and information about fire mitigation.
“I think it’s a very beneficial thing for people who live in fire areas to be as knowledgeable as they can about what to do if there is an impending fire,” said Falls Creek Ranch resident Mindy Self. “It also brings the community together for our safety.”
The event culminated with a mock evacuation, which led homeowners on their alternative evacuation route in perfect conditions. They even practiced signing in to the “evacuation center” to stress the importance of communication during emergencies.
“That’s a real important part that people forget,” Church said. “They’ve got to check in after they evacuate. Otherwise, first responders will be up here trying to save people, risking their lives, and there’s nobody there.”
Community members hope to see neighboring subdivisions host similar functions this summer.
“Hopefully, maybe this could be the start of spreading this knowledge to other people who live in the forest and in the mountains,” Self said.