Living in a Risky Fire-Prone Zone

Despite Big Rains, Wildfires Dangers Still Persist in Ute Pass

Rick Langenberg


Don’t be fooled by the record rains, and don’t let your guard down in mitigating your property and helping out your neighbors in preparing for a future fire disaster.


And despite the heavy moisture, it’s not matter of if, it’s a matter of when, when it comes to devastating flames threatening the Ute Pass community.


These were some of the themes echoed during a joint mayoral and fire mitigation forum, sponsored by the Green Box Arts Festival. The talk generated a huge crowd at the Church in the Wildwood’s Tatter Hall on Independence Day. Similar to past years, the annual mayoral forum is one of the special conversation  highlights of the two-week festival.


David Douglas, the chairman of  Green Mountain Falls Fire Mitigation Committee, didn’t hold back in describing the risks facing local residents who reside in what has been described as the most at-risk community in the area. Mayor Todd Dixon chimed in on this danger factor, noting that if a fire reaches a certain main stage trigger point in GMF, the town is no longer defensible.


The big culprit, based on Douglas’ analysis: Way too many trees, including much diseased vegetation. Douglas said a healthy forest should only average about 70 to 80 trees per acre, while the GMF region sprouts with an average of 700 to 1,000 trees per acre. Plus, GMF’s location, in the heart of the Pike National Forest and at the bottom of Pike Peak, make it a prime target during wildfires. To make matters more dangerous, the community has a strong elderly population, which may need assistance in evacuating, with many folks who don’t use social media.


For the last two decades, GMF has been mostly spared from wildfire attacks, other than a huge community evacuation that occurred during the Waldo Canyon blaze.


On the upside, Douglas noted that much progress has occurred in mitigating  town property with the help of the Coalition for the Upper South Platte (CUSP). He contends that the town has probably taken efforts to combat 60 acres of fire-prone areas. Also, he cited a slew of programs available to residents, such as “Neighbor Helping Neighbor,” “Chipper Days,” fire awareness community events and many grant opportunities, available with CUSP.


He cited the advice of the late Dick Bratton, a staunch community leader for decades, in asking for a call to arms in addressing the issue. “I am really interested in what you are doing on your property,” said Douglas, in quoting a phrase from Bratton, who played a key role in the formation of the fire mitigation committee.


He expressed the importance of neighbors working together in ridding their properties of diseased trees and highly flammable material, and cited this as good way to get to know your neighbors.

Douglas stated that much assistance is available through CUSP, which could foot the bill for nearly half of a property owner’s mitigation bill, under a current grant program that expires at the end of this year. He also wants residents to get involved in “Chipper Days,” to reduce the fuels that contribute to the spread of wildfires.


In essence, Douglas made a plea for residents to get engaged in the process and not to hesitate in contacting a member of the fire mitigation committee, if you have questions.


According to Douglas, the ultimate goal for the committee is to help the community work towards having a “healthy forest,” a pursuit that has been lost due to years of dry weather and a lingering drought.  The conditions of the last two summers may have created an easing of familiar fire fears, but Douglas doesn’t want residents to let their guard down in any way.


His presentation was well-received, with most residents agreeing on the goals of the committee.


The group’s main challenge hinges on a lack of funding, as it only receives about $15,000 from the town of  GMF for its fire mitigation efforts, which forces the group to rely heavily on grants.



Concerns Raised Over Beat-up Roads, Government Red Tape and Trail Beautification

During last week’s forum, Dixon also addressed the crowd and described the many town projects underway. The mayor also took a critical stance against actions taken by the state government to mandate many new rules that end the use of fossil fuel-type heating, in an effort to declare war against gas stoves and propone heating, and requiring more electric setups that often come with hefty costs.


He said these new regulations put quite a burden on towns like Green Mountain  Falls.


And not surprisingly, the subject of roads and trail enhancements entered into the discussion. Resident and former trustee Howard Price described the current state of the roads as intolerable, and reaching a point that could lead to accidents and future lawsuits.


If the current “lousy road” trend continues, he warned that the town would soon have to erect a sign, declaring, “Danger: Driving on our Roads Can Be Dangerous to Your Health.” Price stated that GMF is becoming the “laughing stock of the area,” when it comes to road maintenance and handling necessary improvements.


Town officials, though, say that GMF has been hindered by a record-low number of public works employees and equipment operators and has dealt with extremely challenging  weather. The mayor vowed to review the specific roads, such as Grant, that Price identified.


Besides roads, resident Judith Piazza raised big concerns about trail devastation along the popular Thomas route.  She cited the importance of committing resources towards trail beautification. “The Thomas trail is abominable,” said Piazza. “It looks like a disaster zone.”


She cited big problems with tree damage and a spree of problems that she believes will make GMF a less desirable place for visitors to hike.


Other issues raised at the forum dealt with making the GMF town hall more hospitable for a five-day a week operation. Resident Rocco Blasi stressed the importance of making the government more of a “service-agency.”