Taking on Excellence: Colorado
On the heels of Arizona, we travel north to visit our fourth Site of Excellence, Red Rock Ranch (RRR). Just north of Colorado Springs, this community has seen the devastating effects of wildfire up close with the Waldo Canyon (2012) and Black Forest (2013) fires, yet struggled to get engagement and buy-in in their early wildfire preparedness attempts. Dave Betzler shares background information on the community and how they moved forward with Firewise and lays out a detailed plan for how they will tack the challenge given to all pilot sites.
RRR Community Description:
RRR HOA is a 360-acre development of 202 homes within a Wildland Urban Interface. Midway between Monument and Palmer Lake, our roughly 600 residents enjoy rural living nestled at the foot of 8100-foot Raspberry Mountain amidst tall ponderosa pines and extensive stands of scrub oak. Bordered on two sides by Pike National Forest, residents enjoy seeing the abundant wildlife (deer, fox, coyote, and occasional mountain lion and black bear) as well as a varied bird population. Residents appreciate the quiet and serenity of mountainside living, yet have close and ready access to all necessary conveniences and services in both Colorado Springs and Denver, as well as small town ‘feel' of adjacent Monument and Palmer Lake.
RRR Firewise USA Journey:
Initial, but largely unsuccessful HOA wildfire awareness discussions first surfaced in 2014, led by a Board member. Slash was collected in one area and chipping was removed. This was a partially success, as only 20 homeowners participated and HOA chipping costs were too high to be sustained.
In 2016 the new HOA president attended numerous Firewise meetings including the Tri-Lakes United Methodist Church's Emergency Preparedness Group. With EPG and HOA volunteers, we held 2 days of fuel reduction on the property of a disabled homeowner. This event was an attempt to “jumpstart” broad HOA resident fuel reduction, and to show the community “mitigation” or fuel reduction does not mean total destruction of the existing landscape.
In 2017, HOA President and a handful of concerned residents recognized the wildfire risk, decided to take action, and formed a Firewise Committee. The Community Wildfire Protection Plan was developed in collaboration with Woodland Park office of Colorado State Forest Service and Tri Lakes Monument Fire Protection District. The CWPP includes an aggressive plan detailing mitigation and wildfire education and preparedness actions and activities. We applied for and were awarded a $6200 grant from Coalition for Upper South Platte for 2018 wildfire mitigation and chipping.
In 2018 Firewise Committee conducted an extensive education and awareness campaign to inform residents of the wildfire threat and the need to take action. In addition to widespread homeowner visits, the Committee purchased bright long sleeved Firewise Volunteer shirts as visible reminders for homeowners. Committee efforts resulted in 73 homeowners conducting property mitigation, and 22 residents receiving home wildfire assessments. Grant funded chipping was conducted on six days. Extensive wildfire outreach efforts included meetings and discussions with El Paso County (Office of Emergency Management, Transportation/Roads, and Sheriff's office), Colorado State Forest Service, United States Forest Service, Coalition for Upper South Platte, and Northern El Paso County Coalition of Community Associations, and Tri-Lakes Monument Fire Protection District. RRR HOA applied for and was selected as a National Fire Protection Association Site of Excellence, a national two-year program that sponsors comprehensive and focused Firewise USA activities in each of the seven state sites.
Our Sites of Excellence Pilot Project is focused on 23 target homes within a severe/high-risk area of HOA. Our project goals are:
- Comprehensive wildfire education & awareness campaign: regular distribution/display of Firewise materials, signs and banners
- Full homeowner engagement & participation: assessment and mitigation of each home/property (wildfire risk zones 1 & 2, tree/understory)
- More resilient homeowners: risk/threat- aware, and better prepared for emergency/evacuation
- Neighbors and neighborhoods working together: acceptance of shared risks, recognition of individual and collective responsibilities
- Burdened Homeowners – financial situations, physical limitations, elderly or frail seniors; reluctant/obstinate homeowners; absentee owners/rental properties
- Resource limitations – insufficient funding for HOA Firewise and target property mitigation and chipping
- Volunteer availability – personal emergencies, family caretaker responsibilities, physical limitations (retired, injured, aging, etc)
- Intentional focus on each and every homeowner interaction: caring, respectful, listening, compassionate, non-judgmental;
- Partner with local church's emergency preparedness team for no-cost property mitigation of physical/financial constrained homeowners);
- Respectful and persistent Firewise and neighbor-to-neighbor conversations, low-key but direct with reluctant/obstinate residents;
- Direct and official HOA correspondence (email, written) to an absentee owners/rentals
Overarching approach for Sites of Excellence project: Develop/maintain personal relationships; foster neighbor-to-neighbor assistance; maintain open two-way communications; and recognize homeowner participation and accomplishments (publicity, Firewise and HOA newsletters, website, media articles, project progress reports)
Other Sites of Excellence/Firewise emphases:
Outreach, collaboration and advocacy:
- Increase Tri-Lakes area/region awareness (e.g., Northern El Paso County Coalition of Community Organizations/NEPCO with 40 plus member HOAs, Pikes Peak Wildfire Prevention Partners/PPWPP multi-county information sharing organization). .
- Develop/strengthen organizational relationships (e.g., El Paso County - Office
of Emergency Management and Transportation/Roads; County Commissioners); CSFS and USFS; Colorado Stat Representative)
- Publicize Firewise and NFPA Sites of Excellence efforts
In follow up conversations with Red Rock Ranch, they are making progress on the above plan. Like other sites, they are finding success in intentional, personal approaches. While a meeting might spark some interest, face to face conversations are leading to outcomes. Thank you Dave for giving us a glimpse in to your community, can't wait to see the end results! Stayed tuned next month when we hear from Washington State.
What will it take for you and your neighbors to take action? Visit Firewise.org more to learn more about how to organize your community and steps towards increasing your chances of withstanding a wildfire.
Sign up for Fire Break Newsletter to stay up to date with the latest news and information on key wildfire issues. You can also follow me on twitter @meganfitz34for more wildfire related topics.
Photos: Top - courtesy Tom Welle, NFPA; middle - Fire Marshall and Firefighter Will Vogl operating new Tri Lakes Monument Fire Protection District chipper (7/24), courtesy Beth Lonnquist, Red Rock Ranch HOA President; bottom - Firewise & homeowner volunteers carrying slash to chipper (7/24), courtesy Beth Lonnquist, Red Rock Ranch HOA President.