Whenever someone asks what’s my favorite part of the job as the national Firewise USA Program Manager, my reply is always the same, it's the opportunity to see firsthand the results of residents committed to reducing their wildfire risks; and a recent trip to Durango, CO proved that to once again be an accurate statement.
In the southwest part of Colorado, residents are very familiar with wildfire and the names of many of those events easily roll off the tongues of both residents and stakeholders alike; they include The Missionary Ridge Fire in 2002; The Vallecito and Valley Fires in 2012 and this year the Lightner Creek Fire. Folks that live there can vividly recall each and they’re working hard to ensure they’re prepared for when the next one happens.
Our day in Durango was spent with our host, the incredible Pam Wilson, Executive Director of Firewise Southwest Colorado where she trekked us through spectacular scenery as we visited three Firewise USA sites and met with residents and stakeholders that included the Colorado State Forest Service, the U.S.D.A. Forest Service, along with others to get a look at how they’re successfully tackling mitigation.
Through a volunteer Neighborhood Ambassador program that’s operated by Firewise of Southwest Colorado, volunteers are utilized as ambassadors who commit to mobilizing their neighborhoods as it relates to wildfire safety; and where they link their neighbors and neighborhoods to trusted wildfire education resources, promote mitigation projects and also act as a contact for local firefighting entities. Their model works well and residents have stepped up to the challenge and are making good things happen in their own backyards.
During our visit we made stops in both Bayfield and Durango, where we had the privilege of meeting ambassadors from these three nationally recognized Firewise USA sites: Falls Creek Ranch, Vallecito and Deerfield Estates, each with unique success stories. They truly embodied the epitome of what can be accomplished when residents are empowered to make where they live a safer place. Kudos to these and all the other hard-working sites throughout the nation that are truly making a difference through their collaborative risk reduction activities!