The Crestone Eagle • November, 2020

Saguache County Firewise Team proceeds

by Daniel S. Johnson

On October 6 Saguache County Commissioners voted to continue funding the Firewise Program I’ve been building since 2009, citing many letters of support from residents. The previous funding from 2019 ran out this past March, although we continued mitigation projects for residents into July using the Baca’s Wildland Urban Interface grant, and completed protections for 73 structures. Facing a hot, dry summer which ultimately broke many records for mega-fires, there was no way we were going to stop preparations before the non-stop fire season was upon us.

I fought fires for 54 days in Nevada, Grand Junction and California. Kevin McConnaughhay took out the Baca’s brush truck on 3 dispatches to Colorado blazes, giving valuable on-the-job training to 4 Baca firefighters and making tens of thousands of dollars for the POA, who sponsored them. Benjamin Antoniewicz spent his summer on the prestigious San Juan Interagency Hotshot crew while 2 other firefighters dispatched with contractors. All these folks are coming home with experience which will help them to fight local fires in the future.

In addition to our team funding, the Commissioners also funded Corez Hines and Chrissy Lakish’s program to deliver emergency firewood to residents facing the bite of winter without adequate heat. In conjunction with Neighbors-Helping-Neighbors, these folks pick up excess wood from our thinning projects, split it and deliver enough wood to last a week or two, or until a purchased wood delivery arrives. They have been doing this for over two years without any funding. With better equipment and wages, they will be able to expand the service.

This fire season will go down in history as one of the most destructive fire years on record. Firefighters have been watching the intensity of wildfires increase since the ‘80s and we’re having to incorporate new tactics, as our standard use of fire breaks, retardant drops and burnouts hardy even slowed some of the walls of flame we experienced this summer. This may be the new normal as climate change deepens, causing drought, ferocious winds and high temperatures. (It was over 100° on every fire I fought this year.)

By the time you read this, we should be back at work, with our first priority being the residents who were receiving service before we all left for distant fires. Adding the folks who called this summer to get on the waiting list, we have around 25 fire mitigation projects waiting. To get on the list, call me at 719-480-9764. We have a team of 16 firefighters at present so we may have multiple projects going simultaneously.