Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Community Planning Assistance for Wildfire coming to the county in 2019

Understanding, identifying and prioritizing wildfire hazards

By Cayla Vidmar

Gunnison County has been chosen as one of the Community Planning Assistance for Wildfire (CPAW) communities for 2019.

CPAW helps communities better plan the wildland-urban interface (WUI), and is a free assistance program that chooses communities through an application process. In 2019, the program will include a range of planning assistance, including policies and regulations to address wildfire; capacity building training for first-responders; wildfire hazard assessment; and more.

“We expect to utilize information about risk and mitigation opportunities to develop recommendations for the BOCC [Board of County Commissioners],” writes Cathie Pagano, director of Gunnison County community and economic development. This includes building response capacity for local entities and developing better tools for communication with the public, according to Pagano.

Pagano says county staff had been planning to work on updating wildfire regulations and to review the WUI code this winter when the opportunity to work with CPAW arose. Since the program is free, Pagano says, “We felt is would be beneficial for our community.”

Robert Weisbaum, operations chief for the Crested Butte Fire Protection District (CBFPD), believes the program is directly in line with the needs of the community, saying, “We are surrounded by beauty that has a lot of potential to create a major disaster if a wildfire were to get out of control.” He continues, “Having a program like this helps educate everyone to the risks associated with living in and near national forests.”

The program will include public outreach, and Weisbaum notes, “Learning how to harden your home can certainly reduce your chances of total damage.” He says the CBFPD is working on certifying the crew of firefighters to be wildland firefighters. “They will be able to be utilized as a resource outside of our boundary lines of National Forest and BLM lands,” says Weisbaum.

“I’m hoping the community understands the importance of protecting your property by mitigating simple items that help improve the safety of our community,” says Weisbaum. He’s looking forward to engaging the public in a conversation on wildfires and mitigation, and to hear back from the public on what is working. “Are they partaking and taking this seriously? What are they doing to do their part to help protect this place? We would also love to hear when good or bad things are happening. We can all learn from each other, and information/knowledge is power,” writes Weisbaum.

Pagano says she will be working with the CPAW this month to establish a plan and scope of work for the upcoming year. She notes this plan will include public outreach and engagement, but the plan for that has not been established yet.

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