WOODLAND PARK — The Pike National Forest was a healthier place 113 years ago. The mountainsides and hills were modestly covered with trees, with obvious bare ground showing in between — if a wildfire had burned through, it would have been mild.
Dan Olson, from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, showed a photo of the drastically different forest to a group of Woodland Park residents on Tuesday night. He then flashed an image of today’s forest, and the audience gasped.
“The forest today is a super high density,” he explained, as he pointed to the solid-green slopes below Pikes Peak. “We have lost the potential for a low severity fire.”
That means, when the forest burns, it’ll burn in a big way, just like in Waldo Canyon last summer.
The 40 residents came together in what has become a grass-roots fire mitigation team. All residents of the forested neighborhoods west of Woodland Park—County Ridge Estates, Forest Edge Estates, and Forest Edge Park — they responded to fellow neighbor Scott Lord’s “call to action.” Lord wants the city, the county and the state and national forest services to unite and do some mass fire mitigation in Woodland Park.
“This is the area that I love. This is where I want to be. This is my paradise,” Lord told his neighbors.
Lord recognizes that living in the red zone — neighborhoods targeted for extreme wildfire danger — comes at a cost. Following the Waldo Canyon fire, Lord applied for a $10,000 Colorado State Forest Service grant to start the community’s chapter of FireWise Community program, an international organization that promotes wildfire preparedness.
The grant comes with a caveat — Lord must match it, and on Tuesday night he elicited the help of his neighbors to donate money or translate cash into man-hours cleaning up their properties in preparation for fire season.
“What does this mean to me? I want a call to action,” he said. “I just want to get busy.”
Lord brought Olson to talk to the group about forest health, and another expert from the Colorado State Forest Service to talk to the neighbors about defensible space, ladder fuels and juniper trees — in short, how to prepare their homes to survive a wildfire without the help of fire crews, if need be.
By the end of the meeting, Lord had groups of residents divided into neighborhoods, putting their heads together, and coming up with a mitigation plan. The community’s first volunteer mitigation day is Saturday.
Dave Root, from the state forest service, told the neighbors that wildfire preparation isn’t an option but a must.
“If you’re going to have a fire — and you will. Again, it’s not if, it’s when.”