Wildfire mitigation efforts in full swing throughout Colorado Springs

June 23, 2013 Updated: June 23, 2013 at 10:15 am

Many longtime Colorado Springs residents had always thought fire would hit the southwest end of town first.

So when the Waldo Canyon fire barreled down the northwest end of the city last year, destroying 347 homes, the flames served as a scary warning to the thousands of people living in the shadow of Cheyenne Mountain.

"I think they realize that had that fire jumped Highway 24, things would have turned out very different," said Christina Randall, wildfire mitigation administrator for the Colorado Springs Fire Department.

And now with more than 500 homes destroyed in Black Forest, fire is again foremost in residents' minds.

Southwest Colorado Springs had been somewhat lax before the fires but is now working to mitigate its risk, Randall said. The city is helping homeowners do it.

"The southwest end of town just really hasn't had a lot of momentum, so that's really our focus because when you look at that end of town in terms of vegetation and slope and housing density, it's much more serious than Mountain Shadows," she said. "So we're going to work where the risk is the greatest."

Efforts include:

- Add another chipping crew to haul away flammable fuels. Demand is at an all-time high with 92 neighborhoods participating, up from 13 when the city started the free service.

- Provide up to $500 in cost-sharing stipends to homeowners in certain neighborhoods, including Broadmoor Bluffs, Skyway, Cheyenne Canyon and Old Broadmoor, for wildfire mitigation work. The stipends are from a grant obtained by the city.

"We help coordinate the mitigation work with the contractors. That's our role," Randall said. "We're not cleaning up people's yards. We're not planting daffodils. This is about reducing hazardous fuels."

- Thin and prune a 72-acre piece of private property between the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and The Broadmoor. The money for the work, which should start soon, was obtained through a grant from the Anschutz Foundation and the El Pomar Foundation.

The wildfire mitigation work is planned over three years. While the city is helping with the effort, property owners ultimately need to be responsible for themselves, Randall said.

Fred Wisely, president of the Broadmoor Bluffs Homeowners Association, worries about upper portions of the neighborhood, which are heavily wooded.

"When I look at it and relate it to my old days (as a volunteer firefighter), I say, 'The good Lord really needs to take care of this place,'?" he said.

Of the 28,800 acres in the wildland urban interface throughout the city, only about 5,800 acres have been thinned and pruned.

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