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3 Southwest Coloradoans win fire mitigation awards

Southwest Coloradoans accounted for 3 out of 12 awards handed out nationally for fire mitigation work performed in communities.

The National Fire Mitigation Award is authorized by four firefighting agencies: the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the National Association of State Foresters, the United States Forest Service and the National Fire Protection Association. The awards were handed out at the monthly FireWise meeting in Durango on Tuesday.

Three local winners were Peggy Beach of Pagosa Springs, Les Cole of La Plata County and Phillip Walters of Montezuma County.

Beach is credited with organizing her neighborhood five miles south on Colorado Highway 184 to practice the best fire mitigation process over the past year, including holding workshops, organizing chipping days, adopting a fire hydrant program to clear snow and convincing the homeowners association to match a $10,000 state grant to perform mitigation work on private lots.

“I’ve watched the neighborhood go from people screaming about their constitutional, God-given right to have trees growing through their deck, to people asking Peggy how she can help get mitigation work done,” said Bill Tirmarco, an Archuleta County coordinator for FireWise.

Cole, a resident in the Deer Valley subdivision, organized the first Community Wildfire Protection Plan in 2010 – the first in La Plata County. In his neighborhood, only 3 out of 84 homes have not been treated for fire mitigation.

“He’s been instrumental,” said FireWise executive director Pam Wilson.

Walters, who lives on the edge of La Plata and Montezuma counties, focused his efforts on building defensible space zones, utilizing the best construction materials to resist fire and planned out a response should a fire occur.

The work came in handy in 2012, Walters said, when the Weber Fire threatened homes in his neighborhood as it burned more than 10,200-acres near the top of Mancos Hill.

“It helps take the mental stress off when you’ve thought about how a fire is going to interact with the community,” he said. “It helps to deal with it if you’ve really internalized what’s going to happen. Because someday, something will happen.”

Paul Hollar, Montezuma County emergency manager, said there’s no telling how many tax dollars, homes and lives were saved because of Walter’s preemptive work.

“For three awards to be handed out in the Southwest is a credit to the ambassadors and FireWise,” he said.

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