Proactive emergency fire management

Gilpin County

By Roger Baker

Gilpin County’s first significant snow – and the cold snap that followed – has somewhat pushed the recent rains from our collective memory, just as those rains made us forget about the fire concerns we shared in the late spring and early summer. Yet as I’m writing this there’s a Red Flag alert for high fire danger on the eastern plans of Colorado.

All of which reminds us that there are a lot of potential threats to public health and safety with which we must be concerned, which is why there was another draft of the Emergency Operations Plan brought before the Commissioners at Tuesday’s meeting.

That same meeting also saw a formalized agreement with the Gilpin RE-1 school district for our Sheriff’s Office to provide – with financial assistance from the district – a full-time school resource officer to protect against the sort of tragedy that has plagued our educational institutions at every level since Columbine.

And though in the world of emergency management it always seems like we are playing catch-up, there are at the same time a number of very proactive measures the County is taking to deal with what remains the County’s pre-eminent threat, wildfire.

Though this fall has been extraordinarily wet, that also has meant a bumper crop of grasses, shrubs and weeds; if we have a dry winter that will mean a lot of combustible fuel for next summer’s fire season.

So we’re already working toward mitigating that fire danger for next year, and there’s no better time than these (relatively) snow-free days of late fall for setting up a defensible space perimeter around individual homes.

Individuals who choose to do this should know that the County has extended the hours the free slash collection site in mid-County will be open another month for just that purpose; though it was originally slated to be closed by now, we’ve changed the closing date to November 2 to give homeowners another month to get those small trees cut down and ladder fuels (the low-hanging branches nearest the ground) removed.

We’re also – through a grant from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources – moving ahead with a community-based mitigation program that will allow homeowners groups and other organizations to undertake mitigation work on a wider scale.

This process is moving ahead very quickly; the grant was just recently awarded, and we’ve already hired a part-time fire mitigation specialist who will coordinate the projects over the next 18 months. Details are now being worked out: an application form is still being developed, but plans are for up to eight “communities” (however defined) to receive up to $10,000 in actual tree removal costs, with a full day of free chipping; logs can be taken to our biomass system at the Public Works building if the homeowner doesn’t want them.

The specifics of the application process will be coming out over the next couple of weeks; the best place to watch is the CSU Extension page on the County’s website, though of course we’ll have updates in this paper, as well as on the County Facebook and Twitter pages as well.

One more thing: the slash site will be closed Sunday, October 13 for the Columbus Day holiday. All other County offices will be closed on Monday, October 14, though the Community Center will stay open. And the Courthouse here in Central City will be closed Tuesday, October 15, while we’re doing some electrical work on the building. It’s going to be a busy autumn…

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