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Routt County: Organizing Colorado’s Newest Effort at Community Fire Adaptation

View from the Colorado Multi-Mission Aircraft of the Silver Creek Fire plume, Sept. 2018

In 2018, the Silver Creek Fire, northwest of Kremmling had ignited and been burning within containment lines since July. Hot and windy conditions pushed the fire beyond containment lines in September prompting evacuations of around 200 homes and closure of Hwy 134. Routt County is still paying the bills for their 2018 wildfire suppression costs. Evacuations were also prompted in September of 2017 by the Deep Creek Fire in Western Routt County. Routt County fire professionals, land managers, foresters, and emergency managers have decided it is time to organize their community efforts around wildfire preparedness.

On May 10th and 11th, Routt County held its first Wildfire Mitigation Conference at Colorado Mountain College. The first day of this conference brought together area professionals to examine existing resources and needs for future wildfire resilience. The second day brought in members of the public alongside professionals for a full day of presentations by professionals from throughout the state.  Presentations covered fire adapted communities topics including mitigation best practices and fuel break success stories, defensible space, Firewise USA®, Fire resistant home construction, evacuations, and insurance, and some less common topics such as fire & agriculture.

Panel presentations during the Routt County Wildfire Mitigation Conference, May 10 & 11, 2019 – Photo courtesy of Routt County Extension

Reviewing the areas of interest from various stakeholders who participated in the professional day at the conference highlighted the importance of tailoring community fire adaptation to the particular assets and needs of an area. Participants in Routt County placed their greatest need on protecting their water resources from wildfire threats. They also want to see more residents take responsibility for living in wildfire prone landscapes and taking advantage of already available community resources, such as free wildfire risk assessments by the fire protection districts and Colorado State Forest Service. This article, 99% of Routt County residents live in areas at risk for wildfire in the Steamboat Pilot highlights this effort to reach residents with actions they can take. Better coordination of mitigation plans also bubbled near the top of what the group hopes to achieve.

In addition to pulling together the Routt County Wildfire Mitigation Conference which reached well beyond county stakeholders, Colorado State Forest Service and CSU Extension in Steamboat Springs co-hired Haley Dallas as an extension intern to help organize Routt County’s wildfire resilience efforts. She is a vibrant CSU graduate from the Warner College of Natural Resources and the College of Agricultural Sciences  with a passion for extension work. She supported the Routt County conference and is well on her way to providing specific recommendations for the formation of a Routt County Wildfire Council. Since beginning her internship, Haley has been researching successful wildfire council structures and initiatives throughout the Western U.S. to determine what might be successful next steps for Routt County.

Schelly Olson with Grand Fire, Chair of the Grand County Wildfire Council, and Treasurer of Fire Adapted Colorado, gives a presentation on the Art of Being Fire Adapted during the Routt County Wildfire Mitigation Conference. Photo courtesy of Routt County Extension.

It is great to welcome a new region of Colorado to the growing movement of communities across the state and nation who are seeking to rebuild their relationships with wildland fire. It will be an exciting time to watch another fledgling community fire adaption group with so much experience from other groups to build upon. Be on the lookout for Routt County to leverage their  existing assets alongside the processes and initiatives demonstrated by fire professionals and communities across the west to live better with fire.

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