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New Fire Mitigator for Pitkin County

Jun 25, 2013

Colorado Fires 6-20-13
Credit Gilad Rom / Creative Commons

Later today, (Wed 6-25-2013) the Pitkin County Board of Commissioners will meet its new fire mitigation manager, Jerry Peetz. The position is the county’s latest move to ensure citizens are prepared should a wildfire occur. Aspen Public Radio’s Rebecca Kruth reports.

People tend to wait to mitigate when the danger of wildfires is already high.  So says Joe DiSalvo. Sheriff of Pitkin County.

“We have been telling people for the last few years, the time to mitigate is late fall, early spring. If we get a burn ban into effect, you can’t use chain saws, because they can start fires. So we really prefer to get people out there ahead of this instead of behind it,” DiSalvo said.

Pitkin County has, so far, remained in the clear this burn season. But DiSalvo said that’s no reason for residents to let down their guard.

“There could be a fire today that could really affect Pitkin County dramatically, so I don’t want anyone for a minute to think that we’re safe, because we’re not. A lightning strike or a human start could really change the face of this,” he said.

"We have been telling people for the last few years, the time to mitigate is late fall, early spring."

DiSalvo says cooperation from the community, in terms of respecting burn bans, has played a large role in keeping the county safe.

Still, mitigation is a priority for the county. Now they’ve hired an official fire mitigator, Jerry Peetz. He started last week and today will be officially introduced to county commissioners. He formerly served as Deputy Chief of the Basalt Fire Department and helped with a program called Ready. Set. Go.

“It’s a sharing of responsibility with property owners, home owners and the agencies that respond to wildfires, Red Cross, law enforcement, communications, fire agencies,” Peetz said, at a Pitkin County Commissioners meeting last April.

“So, the program, basically, is a public meeting, and you have all those agencies involved, and they inform the public in one place exactly what to expect if a wildfire strikes,” he said.

Now Pitkin County is taking fire safety one step further by appointing Peetz as a full time fire mitigator.

As part of his new role, Peetz will help inform citizens about taking precautions to protect their property. Actions like clearing brush, keeping tree branches trimmed back and moving stacked firewood away from houses are all crucial when it comes to fire mitigation.

Next door, in Eagle County, Eric Lovgren has served as wildfire mitigation manager since 2006. Since then, he says, much has changed in how residents prepare for fire.

“We had, at that time, a huge amount of the neighborhoods in Eagle County requiring the use of wooden roofing and wood siding, excessive landscaping,” Lovgren said. “They were fining home owners for cutting down trees, and basically designing neighborhoods that were aimed mostly at getting as many houses up the hill as they could. [They were] focused on views and that kind of thing without much concern for what would happen when a fire impacted this area.”

Many communities have even banned wood shake roofing and have passed safety ordinances requiring citizens to create fire defensible space on their property.

However, Lovgren says there’s still plenty of work left in the county and the state of Colorado in general.

“We’re making great strides on addressing what’s being built now, but we’ve got thousands of homes in harm’s way that we have to try to convince people to spend the time and money to begin to improve – [creating] defensible space, replacing flammable building materials in regards to their decks, roofs and siding. That takes a lot of buy-in from the public,” Lovgren said. “So that’s the biggest challenge, to educate and inform.”

Despite those challenges, Lovgren says Eagle County is as well prepared for a wildfire as anyone can be.Pitkin county hopes to be there soon.