Huerfano County, Colorado has demonstrated to us how mitigation and sustainability is a journey, not a destination. Like many of their fellow AIM Affiliates, the event that spurred Huerfano County’s application for funding was disastrous. An uncharacteristically large wildfire impacted the landscape and community, leaving behind lasting post-fire concerns; concerns County personnel worried would detract from the forward momentum of their pre-fire action.
The 2018 Spring Creek Fire burned approximately 108,000 acres, 141 structures and cost $35 million to suppress. Since 1980, over 87% of wildfires have stayed under ten acres. Vegetation types in Huerfano County range from grassland, pinon and juniper forests, to dense ponderosa pine and mixed conifer forests that have been impacted by significant insect activity at higher elevations. This rural Colorado county is interspersed with private land inholdings and is challenged by having a large proportion of seasonal residents as well as being the third poorest county in Colorado.
To leverage the impact of the Spring Creek Fire, Huerfano County, the Pike-San Isabel National Forest, and the Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands (PSICC) requested a Community Mitigation Assistance Team (CMAT) to work with local partners and communities and increase the effectiveness of existing mitigation programs. The Team assisted Huerfano County in developing a wildfire mitigation partnership which came to be known as the Spanish Peaks Alliance for Wildfire Protection (SPAWP). See the full CMAT report here.
“In my opinion, CMAT will help any wildfire outfit regardless of their capability. It definitely brought us closer to attaining our goals. Simply by engaging more local partners, we have been able to address and complete more complex tasks, such as adopting WUI Codes, updating Comprehensive Plans, creating a County CWPP, and establishing Biomass utilization options.”
Paul Branson, Wildfire Mitigation Specialist, Huerfano County
One of SPAWP‘s first actions was to apply for AIM funding through Huerfano County to increase the collective capacity of engaging residents, conducting assessments and helping build the partnership. By May 2019, SPAWP received their 501c3 designation and Huerfano County Commissioners made the financial decision to fully fund a mitigation position.
Huerfano County was the sole facilitator, on SPAWPs behalf, for 4 of the 5 projects which occurred primarily in recognized Firewise USA communities. All projects were completed in January 2020 with over 30 acres of highly visible shaded fuel breaks and targeted demonstration sites.
In regards to the next year, Cody Siebert, Vice President of SPAWP said, “Together, we will double our awareness education and membership via networking and unifying our systems [and] increase our technology services via our website to integrate project management tracking and streamline financial reporting. We are employing a program to engage and help people who want to learn how to prevent or recover from fire devastation by educational presentations and personal home protection assessments via Members who attended formal NFPA training.” SPAWP continues to meet and identify new and emerging opportunities for collaboration and mitigation.
“SPAWP has come a long way in its first 18 months and is off to a great start. We connected SPAWP with Fire Adapted Colorado (FACO) who facilitated a Home Ignition Zone Workshop for local residents and partners.”
Pam Wilson, a CMAT and AIM team member