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La Plata County launches Wildfire Resource Center

New map shows risks and resources of individual properties
Jon Westrup, owner of Fire Smart Durango, uses a flail mower to clear Gambel oak and brush Wednesday in the Timberline subdivision as part of a fire mitigation project. A La Plata County citizen board has launched an online resource center for county residents and visitors to learn and find resources related to wildfire resiliency. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

The La Plata County Wildfire Advisory Board has launched an online hub for county residents to find fire-related information called the Wildfire Resource Center.

The website centralizes information on fire mitigation techniques and grants, home hardening and community-scale preparedness. It also features a new interactive map the contains information on past and future mitigation efforts and allows users to view their own property’s ignition zone and potential funding opportunities tied to it.

The volunteer citizen board executed the project, which was initiated by Alison Layman, the county liaison to the Wildfire Advisory Board. Layman also serves as coordinator of Wildfire & Watershed Protection Fund, which is a partnership between the county, the city of Durango and the Durango Fire Protection District.

The center aims to empower county residents and visitors by providing them with information about wildfire mitigation resources, Layman said.

“Unless there’s a fire that’s affecting someone you know or in your backyard, it’s not something that people carry with them and own,” she said. “(But) preparedness is a necessary part of living here,” she said.

Part of the challenge of creating a wildfire-adapted community is the communal nature of the work. While wildfire resiliency starts with home hardening (ensuring that homes are built of fire-resistant materials), property mitigation needs to happen on a landscape scale, rather than in a patchwork fashion.

“Any landowner in La Plata County has an impact to fire behavior,” Layman said. “What they do on their land is going to collectively (affect) how the fire impacts our community.”

The interactive map created by the Mountain Studies Institute has concentric circles around individual structures that break down the home ignition zones and show wildfire risk.

According to a Colorado State Forest Service guide, Zone 1, 0 to 5 feet from the home, requires the most vigilant work to reduce ignition by embers or flames. Zone 2, 5 to 30 feet from the home, is designed to minimize a fire’s intensity and its ability to spread while significantly reducing the likelihood a structure will ignite because of radiant heat. Efforts in Zone 3, 30 to 100 feet from the home, should be designed to keep fire on the ground and out of tree crowns.

“You start from your front door or your back door and work outward,” Layman said.

As individual property owners reduce risk in their home ignition zones, efforts shift toward neighborhood-scale mitigation and access improvements for emergency services.

An assortment of grants and tax credits are available to assist with the cost of mitigation, which can easily accrue to a five-figure bill, and the map connects potentially eligible properties with links to those grants.

Following the WAB presentation of the resource center to the Board of County Commissioners last month, Commissioner Marsha Porter-Norton said she “could not be more impressed” with the work.

The Wildfire Resource Center can be access through the county’s emergency management page or directly at www.co.laplata.co.us/livingwithfire.php.