We Are Very Dry; Be Careful With Fire
The 4th of July and the following weeks are the busiest and heaviest populated time of the year. It behooves everyone to be very careful with all fire sources including fireworks during the area’s dry period. Scroll down to find information and tips and a cost of forest fire essay. Norm
PLEASE BE SAFE WITH FIRE – SOME AREAS OF THE SAN JUAN NATIONAL FOREST ARE VERY DRY
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: While no fire restrictions have been put in place on the San Juan National Forest as we head into the busy July 4th holiday, some lower-elevation areas are very dry. Additional fire prevention patrol officers will be out in force to remind National Forest users to be extremely careful with fire over the July 4th weekend and the rest of the summer by following these safety tips:
- Clear the area around campfires of all burnable material.
- Keep a bucket of water and shovel on hand in case wind or other conditions cause your campfire to get out of control.
- Never leave a campfire unattended. Stir water and dirt into the coals until the coals are cool to the touch and there is no smoke to make sure your campfire is completely out before leaving it.
- Extinguish smoking materials only in cleared areas free of vegetation or debris. Never toss cigarette butts out the car window.
- Don’t park cars or recreational vehicles over dry vegetation. Exhaust systems can reach temperatures of more than 1,000 degrees; hot enough to start a wildfire in dry conditions.
- Make sure all off-road vehicles and chainsaws have approved spark arresters. Check and replace spark arresters periodically.
- Fireworks, including sparklers, are always illegal on National Forest lands. The penalty for violators is a maximum of six months in prison and/or $5,000 fine.
- Those responsible for starting a wildfire may be held liable for the cost of fire suppression and resulting damages.
For more information, please visit our Website at: www.fs.usda.gov/sanjuan, or follow the San Juan National Forest on TWITTER @SanJuanNF
Video thanks to George Hunyadi Jr.
This is an article from our archives posted during the wildfires of 2013.
Article by Muriel Eason. Captions by Norm Vance
With fire in Colorado and especially in SW Colorado making national headlines this week, the danger posed by wildfire is likely top-of-mind with everyone. According to Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation (CDC) Board Member and outdoor enthusiast, Morgan Murri, “Pagosa Springs could easily be in the same situation as South Fork and Creede are now, if we had a major fire develop to our Southwest or West.” We’ve been very lucky so far.
It is timely that the featured speaker for the next public CDC meeting is JR Ford, to speak not only of an exciting local renewable energy-generation project, but also about fire mitigation in our local forests. The meeting will be Monday, July 1st at 5:30 PM at the new Pagosa Lakes Property Owner’s Association (PLPOA) Vista Conference Room, 230 Port Avenue. Please join to learn more, participate in a public dialog and community networking afterward.
It is not just perception that wildfires are more prevalent, larger and more expensive than in even the recent past. According to a timely report just released by Headwaters Economics of Bozeman, MT, wildfires are indeed getting larger, more prevalent and causing more damage. According to the report, the six worst fire seasons since 1960 have occurred since 2000. Bigger wildfires are generally the result of two factors.
• First, the level of biomass fuels have increased, due to short-sighted land management practices—overgrazing that reduced grass cover and encouraged seedling growth, logging of the large pines that led to a less fire-tolerant understory and aggressive fire suppression that eliminated the natural, low-intensity fires which naturally reduce biomass levels and maintain healthy forests.
• The other factor is changing climatic conditions—higher temperatures, widespread drought, earlier snowmelt and spring foliage growth and escalating insect and disease infestations.
Therefore, wildfire protection costs have risen substantially.
According to the Headwaters research report, “In the 1990s, the average cost of federal wildfire protection and suppression was less than $1 billion annually. Since 2002, the cost of federal wildfire protection and suppression has averaged more than $3 billion per year. Wildfire protection now accounts for nearly half of the Forest Service annual budget, and more than 10 percent of the budget for all Department of the Interior agencies. These figures do not include the $1-$2 billion spent by states on wildfire protection or an untold amount spent by local governments.”
The 3X increase of federal fire protection expenses is partly due to the more severe fire seasons, but it also results from more homes being built in and near forests and other wildlands that are at risk from wildfires. Headwaters Economics calls this area where forest and rural subdivisions meet, the “Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI).” While protecting the private lands of the WUI is largely a state and local responsibility, increasing development in the WUI has also raised federal wildfire costs because homes in the WUI greatly impact federal firefighting strategies, as special efforts are often made to protect individual structures (usually a secondary priority to human safety). We hear this today with news of the West Fork Fire complex near South Fork and Creede.
Further, the emphasis on protecting the WUI also diverts fire control from wildlands, thus increasing resource damages from wildfires. According to the Headwaters report, “The increased fire control costs affect other Forest Service programs as well. The agency often must divert funds appropriated for other purposes, such as recreation management and watershed restoration, for firefighting. Such ‘borrowed’ funds at a minimum delay other activities and are not always repaid. Emphasis on WUI protection also has shifted fuel reduction efforts, limiting treatments that are needed to reduce the fuels that have accumulated in many non-WUI areas. New development of the WUI has also increased the state and local demand for federal financial assistance in wildfire protection.”
And wildfire threat and protection costs are likely to rise because of climate change and continued WUI home development.
A research report, also by Headwaters Economics, specifically for Archuleta County, confirms that the majority of our private wildlands are still undeveloped—nearly 90% as of 2012—but when the national and local economy pick up, new development will likely resume. New development would significantly increase the federal cost of wildfire protection as well as state and local costs.
Generally, WUI protection to date has focused largely on reducing fuels and making structures safer from fires. But this is not sufficient to control the rising cost of protecting the WUI from wildfires. Local governments can and should take responsibility for sensible WUI development, using local zoning ordinances, building codes, set-back requirements, and more. Additional actions could include mapping water sources and access routes, the increased development and dissemination of information for wildfire protection such as increasing the use of Firewise.
Will we proactively consider wildfire in our planning, zoning and approval reviews for new development?
In Archuleta County and the contiguous San Juan National Forest, we are also making use of JR Ford’s new Biomass Power Plant in combination with Forest Service fire mitigation contracts to remove large quantities of biofuels from our WUI, while simultaneously improving the health of the forests. This proactively reduces our risk of a devastating wildfire.
Please plan to join our next public Pagosa Springs CDC meeting to learn more and join in the discussion.
Report: Rising Cost of Wildfire Protection (PDF)
Summary of Wildfire Research
Interactive: WUI Development in the West