Eagle Valley Wildland grows mitigation efforts, gains support | VailDaily.com

Eagle Valley Wildland grows mitigation efforts, gains support

Consortium working to blunt impacts of wildfire

In just its third summer of work, Eagle Valley Wildland has treated more than 500 acres to reduce wildfire danger around communities.
Eagle Valley Wildland/Courtesy photo

If you subscribe to the Eagle County Alert system — and you should — you’ve seen a number of notifications this spring about wildfire mitigation work. That’s a good thing.

After a modest start — with an equally modest budget — Eagle Valley Wildland is doing a lot of wildfire mitigation and education work this year.

Why not Vail?

The town of Vail isn’t a member of the Eagle Valley Wildland consortium, but it isn’t standing alone.

Tracy LeClair of the Eagle River Fire Protection District said Vail doesn’t participate in the Eagle Valley Wildland consortium primarily due to the way it’s funded. The department in Vail is a town department.

But, LeClair added, Vail and Eagle Valley Wildland do work and train together.

The consortium of local fire districts includes the cooperation of local towns, Eagle County, the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. It has really caught its stride in just its third year of operation.

And, as the consortium has grown, more resources have come into the picture.

Hugh Fairfield-Smith, the wildland fire coordinator for the Eagle-based Greater Eagle Fire Protection District, said the Eagle Valley Wildland effort started projects in 2019 with a budget of only about $5,000. The first efforts were done in cooperation with the Avon-based Eagle River Fire Protection District. That district covers the county from the top of Tennessee Pass to Wolcott.

“Every year (funding) has gotten substantially better,” Fairfield-Smith said.

More funding, more work

Just this year, Eagle County has contributed $430,000 to the effort. The Eagle River, Greater Eagle and Gypsum Fire Protection districts have also contributed nearly $177,000 in wildland operational costs. Donations include the use of a $375,000 tactical water truck. The cost of that truck was donated by the owners of the Colorado River Ranch. Eagle River has contributed a wildland fire truck worth more than $400,000. Greater Eagle has provided a new utility vehicle, a staff vehicle and chainsaws worth more than $12,000.

All that attention comes as wildfire draws more and more attention around the region. The state’s largest wildfires on record have occurred in the past three years. In addition, the local region has seen fires ranging from the 2018 Lake Christine Fire in the Basalt area, the 2020 Grizzly Creek Fire in Glenwood Canyon and last year’s Sylvan Lake Fire south of Eagle.

Changing attitudes

Because of all this, “there’s been a real shift in public attitudes,” Eagle River Fire Protection District community risk manager and public information officer Tracy LeClair said. These days, residents in general believe they could be next to be affected by wildfire, she added.

That brings greater support for fire mitigation efforts at individual homes. Fire departments alone can’t do everything, LeClair said.

Fairfield-Smith said Eagle Valley Wildland has received a number of requests for home fire danger evaluations this year, including 25 or more in just the past few days.

Evaluations aren’t mandatory. “It’s about education,” Fairfield-Smith said.

In addition to individual properties, Eagle Valley Wildland is working on community-level mitigation, including creating fire breaks — mostly with mechanical efforts this dry spring. The April Duck Pond Fire near Gypsum created a kind of fire break of its own in the spring, but LeClair said there are plans to expand those fire breaks around town.

Unless you’re in the air or looking at a topographical map, you won’t notice how easily a fire could jump from the Brush Creek Valley south of Eagle to Bellyache Ridge at Wolcott. From there, a fire could easily spread to Cordillera, and from there to Bachelor Gulch and Beaver Creek. That’s why metropolitan districts have also joined in the Eagle Valley Wildland effort.

Fairfield-Smith said that “community approach” can pay dividends if a fire starts to spread.

“There are some pretty unique things happening,” Fairfield Smith said. “We’re always seeking to do more, to make projects bigger. We know wildfire’s coming — we want to make sure it hits with a glancing blow.”

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