August 6, 2013

Woodside Park gets fire assessment

Conditions compared to those before Black Forest fire in Colorado Springs area

Walter L. Newton, Correspondent

At Woodside

This sign in the Woodside Park subdivision is framed by Ponderosa pines, which predominate at Woodside, where there are 80 to 500 trees per acre, versus a natural state of 25-50 trees per acre, according to a recent assessment. (Photo by Tom Locke/The Flume)

Wildfire.

It’s probably the most jolting and frightening word for anyone living among overgrown and overcrowded forests.

One way for a community to lessen the possible impact of a wildfire is to consider the recommendations of a Firewise Community Assessment, and just such an assessment of the Woodside Park subdivision in Pine Junction was conducted by Elk Creek Fire Chief Bill McLaughlin this past summer and sent to Woodside residents in late August.

The Firewise Community Assessment has determined a number of conditions in Woodside that should receive attention. The open meadows are graded as a moderate fire risk, and the overgrown ponderosa pines are at an extreme risk. Woodside’s conditions are similar to those of that led to the Black Forest fire in the Colorado Springs area, according to McLaughlin.

“The [Woodside] community bears remarkable similarity to the Black Forest neighborhood near Colorado Springs, which was the site of Colorado’s worst wildfire disaster. Over 400 homes were lost in a 15,000 acre [fire]. Both Black Forest and Woodside Park are overgrown ponderosa pine forests in rolling hills. Both are at similar altitudes. Both have had decades of fire suppression, leading to excessive fuel loading,” said McLaughlin in the assessment, which was issued on July 19.

The assessment states that virtually 100 percent of the forests are overgrown, that trees of all types are showing drought stress, and that dwarf mistletoe and spruce bud worm are killing trees in Woodside.

Woodside is looking at that assessment and is on the way to developing a strategy to act on it.

The Firewise Communities Program is co-sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Association of State Foresters. The program teaches communities and individuals various methods to adapt to living with wildfire.

Along with local firefighting districts, an appraisal is developed to advise the community of the undertakings needed to become a recognized Firewise Community.

Using the assessment as a resource, the Woodside Park homeowners associations, along with the Woodside residents, are expected to develop a plan.

According to the assessment document, they have completed the first two steps. A “local Firewise board has been established as a committee within the Woodside Park Property Owner’s Association that will maintain the Woodside Park Firewise Community program and status” and the “Elk Creek Fire Protection District’s Chief Bill McLaughlin, a Firewise Community Liaison, has completed this assessment for the community.”

Another primary concern of the assessment is escape routes.

Nova Road and Parker Road both serve as entrances and exits, with only three other roads, which are “two track,” and they have not been maintained. These are bottleneck points that would both hinder escape and hinder incoming fire resources, according to the assessment.

There are a few homes that have decent fire mitigation, but there is too much flammable vegetation surround- ing the majority of Woodside dwellings.

“In the event of a significant fire in the community, the probability of losing multiple structures is high. A repeat of fires like the Black Forest Fire would cause [a] significant number of homes to be lost,” says the assessment.

As the Woodside Park residents move forward with the project, the steps recommended include: investing a minimum of $2 per capita toward reductions in fire threat; looking for grants and tax incentives to help finance the efforts; reviewing emergency escape routes; working with the citizens of Woodside Park in developing and maintaining home defensible space; submiting the application for recognition as a Firewise Community; and holding events such as slash collection and chipping days.

“The good news is that by addressing community vulnerabilities, residents will be able to substantially reduce their exposure to loss. Relatively small investments of time and effort will reap great rewards in wildfire safety,” says the assessment.

At the monthly meeting on Aug. 7, the Woodside Park HOA, Units 2, 3 and 4, presented the assessment to the members that attended. Homeowners who did not attend the meeting received the assessment by email. A committee was formed that will look over the assessment.

“We have to come up with at least three action items off of information contained in the assessment,” said Kelly Flynn, one of the committee members.

Terry Hylland, who is one of the directors on the Woodside Park Architectural Control Committee, is optimistic about the project.

“Recent fires [have] given us a new awareness, but it still [is] up to the homeowners to fix the problem. But with new people coming in, we may be able to turn the corner and get something done,” he said.

Establishing a Firewise Community takes perseverance. It is not just a onetime project. Homeowners come and go, vegetation continues to grow, available fuel patterns vary and residents must remain proactively aware of fire safety issues.

Woodside Fire Assessment

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