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Firefighters: Mitigation a major factor in limiting damage from Bear Creek Fire

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- Mitigation, the removal of excess vegetation from around homes to prevent wildfires, is something fire fighters constantly stress the importance of but often isn't followed until after a fire destroys property.

Yet firefighters responding to Thursday's Bear Creek Fire on the city's southwest side said that the degree of mitigation done helped prevent any home in the affected Upper Skyway neighborhood from being damaged.

Firefighters said Friday that mitigation by homeowners was combined with several mitigation projects conducted by city and county officials in the aftermath of the Waldo Canyon Fire in 2012 and the Black Forest Fire in 2013, both of which burned in or around the city.

At worst, the Bear Creek Fire singed property in the back yards of several homes but came no closer than 10 feet to those homes -- partly because of the prior mitigation and partly because of the quick response by fire crews to protect structures.

Ashley Whitworth, a wildfire mitigation specialist with the Colorado Springs Fire Department, said that Upper Skyway has a history of consistent wildfire mitigation.

"I'd say more people have mitigated here, than haven't," she said. "It's one of our largest communities and it's very active. I know that the entire southwest side of the city is considered to have the highest wildfire risk, but because it's such a large area it's hard to tell how much mitigation is needed."

Firefighters hope they'll see more home mitigation before the next fire happens, especially on the southwest side of the city that is considered the most likely location for the next major wildfire.

City Forester Dennis Will said that available funding limits his department's ability to perform more mitigation projects, but he hopes the successful role of mitigation in Thursday's fire will convince elected leaders to allocate more money for that purpose.

Will said that most of the fire burned in areas mitigated in 2013 and 2016 and still effectively limited the fire's spread.

"We got more than $1 million in additional funding for that work," he said. "Most was from the city through former Mayor Steve Bach. The rest was from state and federal grants. If we ever get more money, I'd like to do Red Rock Canyon, Stratton Open Space, North Cheyenne Cañon, Palmer Park, Blodgett Open Space and more work up here in Bear Creek. There's still a lot of mitigation needed, but it's an enormous undertaking. That's millions of dollars of work needing to be done."

Will said the Bear Creek Fire marks the first time that the city has had a wildfire in an open space area that received extensive mitigation work.

"That's fascinating stuff for us," he said. "We can learn a lot from it."

The city has around 10,000 acres of forested open space, Will said, but 4,000 of those acres are inaccessible to work crews and heavy machinery because of rough terrain.

Taylor Harris, an Upper Skyway homeowner, said he's convinced of the importance of mitigation after moving here from North Carolina in 2017.

"People told me about Waldo and Black Forest," he said. "So I learned what a wildfire can do, and how quickly. I do mitigation around my home twice a year. And we had someone with the fire department come out, look at our property and see what needed to be done."

The "thank you" signs on display at several homes in the neighborhood are homeowners' way of thanking firefighters for their hard work in Thursday's fire. But the signs also serve as a tribute from firefighters, on the advance work by homeowners that made the fire response much easier.

For more information about wildfire mitigation, visit: https://coloradosprings.gov/fire-department/page/wildfire-mitigation-0?mlid=9906.

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Scott Harrison

Scott is a reporter for KRDO. Learn more about Scott here.

Comments

5 Comments

  1. “Taylor Harris, an Upper Skyway homeowner, said he’s convinced of the importance of mitigation after moving here from North Carolina in 2017. “People told me about Waldo and Black Forest,” he said. “So I learned what a wildfire can do, and how quickly. I do mitigation around my home twice a year. And we had someone with the fire department come out, look at our property and see what needed to be done.””
    .
    There’s one person who takes the matter seriously and also takes responsibility for protecting his own property. If more people were that conscientious, there would be far less chance of massive wildfires spreading out of control.

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