Nearly 400 landowners in and near the Chalk Creek drainage are the focus of the Envision Forest Health Council’s Chaffee Chips service this month. Two Chaffee Chips information events are planned: on Aug. 12 and Aug. 21-23.
The Chaffee Chips program coordinates slash removal and chipping services to reduce the threat of wildfire. Homeowners are asked to clear and pile slash, trees, and branches near their curbs in preparation for a three-day Slash Haul Away event.
The Chalk Creek Canyon has been named a top Treatment Priority Area in the Chaffee County Community Wildfire Protection Plan, due to thick stands of trees and steep slopes on both sides of the valley.
There is one main way in and one way out past Mount Princeton Hot Springs on CR 162, a narrow, two-lane road that traverses the 18 miles up-canyon to Alpine and St. Elmo. The small towns and surrounding forests are popular recreation destinations. Especially in the summer, thousands of tourists and recreators can load the canyon on a typical summer day.
“Heading east is the only egress for everyone in the drainage so we’re asking homeowners to do their part with the help of Chaffee Chips,” said Chaffee County Fire Rescue Chief Robert Bertram, a member of the Forest Health Council. He stressed that creating defensible space around structures improves forest health and helps prevent the spread of wildfire.
Bertram advises Chalk Creek homeowners to also consider their egress plan. “A lot of the private access is steep and the switchbacks are so tight that we’d have a hard time getting fire engines in,” he said. “You need to be able to get out.”
Evacuating the Chalk Creek drainage in the event of a wildfire is a top planning priority, says Chaffee County Office of Emergency Manager Richard Atkins. In addition to the road, communications are challenging due to poor or nonexistent cell phone reception, especially further down the valley closer to Mt. Princeton. The county is working to create what Atkins refers to as “areas of refuge,” or places where people could wait during a wildfire to be airlifted out.
Atkins suggests that every family make a family evacuation plan, including how you would communicate in the event of an emergency. Go to Ready.gov or call the Office of Emergency Management at 719-539-6856 for more information.
About 250 property owners in Lower Chalk Creek were sent letters about Chaffee Chips to encourage participation. Others were contacted by email. An information session takes place via Zoom on Wednesday, Aug. 12 from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m., featuring service partners explaining how to participate in Chaffee Chips and answer questions.
Contact email@example.com for meeting access. The Slash Haul Away event in Chalk Creek is set for Oct. 23-25.
Property owners to the north, along CR 321 in an area known as Maxwell Park, have been piling slash for weeks and are expected to help load it into trailers during their event Aug. 21-23.
The Envision Forest Health Council is comprised of community leaders working to implement the Chaffee County Community Wildfire Protection Plan, which maps where to treat 30,000 acres of both private and public lands by 2030 to reduce the overall effects of a wildfire. Visit envisionchaffeecounty.org for more information and maps of 2020 Chaffee Chips service areas.
All Chaffee County property owners can get detailed information about what to do to mitigate fire risk to their property by requesting a free assessment from the Colorado State Forest Service. Call 719-539-2579 to schedule an appointment.