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Homeowners unite against wildfire

Falls Creek recognized for fire-protective efforts

FALLS CREEK – With fires raging across the West, one group of homeowners are resting a little easier knowing they’ve taken steps to protect themselves.

The Falls Creek Ranch Homeowners Association has been recognized for adopting wildfire-protective measures for the 940-acre subdivision at the end of County Road 205.

The development of a Community Wildfire Protection Plan won the association certification from Firewise, a national program that promotes wildfire safety.

It’s the second subdivision in La Plata County to be so recognized. The first was Deer Valley Estates near Bayfield.

“Implementation of the plan is a work in progress,” said Pam Wilson, director of Firewise of Southwest Colorado. “But recognition comes because they have a plan approved by the Colorado State Forest Service and Firewise, spend at least $2 per resident per year on fire-mitigation measures and hold an annual work day or educational event.”

Grants to pay for projects on the 840 acres of common space come from the federal and state forest services and Firewise of Southwest Colorado.

Steps to fireproof the 100-lot subdivision began 34 years ago. But the pace picked up noticeably in the last few years.

The association has installed fire hydrants, developed alternate access routes, made road improvements, leased land to Durango Fire & Rescue Authority for a fire station, created a central slash pile that is burned annually, thinned overgrown stands of timber and conducted prescribed burns.

The association works through seven committees, including one led by Judy and Jim Winzell that coordinates work on common areas. Judy Winzell is the grant writer.

Homeowners who are reluctant to create defensive space around their house by thinning trees are not pressured, the couple explained. Many come around, however, after seeing that projects in common areas don’t involve clear-cutting and that safety and privacy aren’t mutually exclusive.

The same approach holds for participation in work projects, association president Mary Ann Bryant said.

“Residents want to know their neighbors,” Bryant said. “We get 40 people turn out for our annual cleanup day.”

Fire officials praise self-reliance in the wildland/urban interface. Preventing runaway wildfires is similar to health care – beneficiaries of public services must help avert disaster, they say.

Rich Graeber, chief of the Upper Pine Fire Prevention District, says firefighters will put only as much effort into saving a house as the homeowner puts into protecting it. They won’t risk their life, he said.

daler@durangoherald.com

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