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Colorado grant will provide fire mitigation, learning opportunity around Edgemont Highlands

Southwest Conservation Corps will create defensible space in subdivision
Southwest Conservation Corps will begin fire mitigation on 18 acres of land near the Edgemont Highlands housing subdivision in September. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Southwest Conservation Corps will receive $92,100 to perform fire mitigation in the Edgemont Highlands subdivision northeast of Durango as part of a statewide effort to reduce wildfire risk within the wildland-urban interface.

Mitigation of the Edgemont Highlands area will begin in September.

Southwest Conservation Corps provides teens and veterans with educational opportunities, job training and leadership skills in land conservation.

As part of the mitigation effort, Southwest Conservation Corps members will work closely with local experts to learn more about forestry, fire mitigation and wildfire firefighting. Crew members will learn sawing skills as well as ways to lessen severity and spread of wildfires through the eight-week project.

The Edgemont location was selected because it is a high-density housing area where residents are actively creating defensible space around their homes. It was also chosen because the property involves county land and the county does not have a fire crew, said Alison Layman, wildfire and watershed protection fund coordinator with La Plata County.

The mitigated area will cover 18 acres of land adjacent to Edgemont homes.

“Part of the potential for impact is that some of the homeowners have reached out to the county stating their insurance organizations aren’t interested in covering them until all of the lands surrounding their property are mitigated,” Layman said.

Additionally, the land is near the Florida watershed which provides water for the city of Durango. Layman said fire mitigation benefits watersheds by preventing significant wildfires that can impact soils and lead to floods.

“When fires burn at a really high temperature, the soil becomes impenetrable, basically like a sheet of glass,” she said. “So when rain falls, that rain immediately rushes down.”

She used the 416 Fire as an example.

“What we saw in 416, it could carry boulders, cars and you name it because there’s such a quantity of water that’s coming down,” Layman said.

Much of the overgrown fuels in the Edgemont area will be cut down to prevent fire, build a healthier ecosystem and create defensible space. Layman said fuel and firefighter safety are considered when evaluating defensible space.

If a house is surrounded by thick vegetation, it may be unsafe for firefighters to defend, because there is an increased threat of falling debris and visibility issues.

“What we want to do is create a space where that fire doesn’t have the ability to reach a home, or at least decrease the chances that it will,” Layman said.

The ideal situation is to have at least 5 feet surrounding a home where there are few flammable materials, said Alison Lerch, wildfire mitigation program administrator with the Department of Natural Resources. She said defensible space is important because each house is different in terms of vegetation.

The Colorado Strategic Wildfire Action Program came out of Senate Bill 21-258 as a part of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. The program provides funding to start on-the-ground fuels reduction and critical forest restoration projects.

“La Plata County was one of our focus areas because it had a higher population with a lot of wildfire risk,” Lerch said.

tbrown@durangoherald.com

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