PUEBLO, Colo. (KRDO) -- The Colorado Strategic Wildfire Action Program (COSWAP) has awarded the Pueblo Fire Department some of $17.5 million made available for wildfire mitigation by state lawmakers last year.
A release about the award by city officials Monday indicates that the fire department will get $65,000 in in-kind labor from the SWIFT team -- the group of state prison inmates that helps fight wildfires.
Deputy Chief Chris Harner said that during this winter, the SWIFT team will spend six weeks removing excess vegetation and other potential wildfire fuels from three locations: along the Arkansas River, near Pueblo Boulevard on the city's west side, where a wildfire burned last month; along Fountain Creek, just southeast of downtown; and two heavily-vegetated areas near the intersection of Eagleridge and Outlook boulevards.
"Mostly, it's the Parks & Recreation Department, the Stormwater Department and Public Works that maintain these areas," Harner said. "So (the state resources) allows us to free up some of their time and allows us to get more mitigation work done in a year, and put in a state where they can maintain it."
Creek beds and river beds are commonly thick with undergrowth that can contribute to the start or spread of wildfires; the west and north side locations are close to businesses and homes, placing them at a high priority for mitigation.
For example, the Silver Charm Fire in north Colorado Springs three months ago was caused by illegal welding along a creek but the flames spread to dry vegetation in a creek bed -- threatening nearby homes and forcing evacuations.
"Those creek beds and river beds also have a lot of invasive species such as Russian olive and saltcedar," Harner explained. "By removing those, we give the native species a better chance to thrive."
The funding also will pay for improving stormwater drainage on the city's north side, which will help control invasive plants and other excess vegetation.
Karen Gladney works at the Paws for Life animal shelter near the scene of the wildfire in June.
"We were close enough to see the flames," she said. "We had to evacuate out animals. Fortunately, the wind was blowing away from us. Some of this is our property and some of it is the city's property, and we would certainly hope that the city would come along and help maintain that a little better than what it has been."
Anne Souther, who heads the Eagle's Nest Homeowners Association beside the planned north project area, said that she and her neighbors are overjoyed to hear about it.
"Absolutely glad," she said. "We were wondering how we were going to (mitigate) that. That's why I (contacted) code enforcement to see what they could do. I found out who owns that property. They told me it would be a while before anyone could get to it."
Gladney and Souther said they recently performed fire mitigation on their own properties.
Similar COSWAP-supported projects in southern Colorado include:
*Dome Rock and Pikes Peak (Teller County)
*Mueller State Park (Teller County)
*Top of Cheyenne Mountain/Cheyenne Mountain Gambel Oak Thinning (El Paso County)
*Healthy Forest, Green Mountain Falls (El Paso/Teller counties)
*NoFloCo Fire Mitigation Training (Teller County)
*Forest Health (Teller County)