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By reducing its wildfire risk and upping its preparedness, Piñon Ridge Estates, located south and east of Poncha Springs, is now an official Firewise USA site. The community earned the designation working in partnership with the Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) and Chaffee County Fire Protection District.

The recognition can help homeowners get property insurance coverage and protect their homes and natural surroundings, said Supervisory Forester Adam Moore of the CSFS Salida Field Office. He added that federal and state grant opportunities often give weight to a Firewise USA designation when determining who gets competitive funding.

Wildfire is no stranger to Colorado. Firewise USA helps communities reduce the risks.

The National Fire Protection Association implements the Firewise program in Colorado. Steps required for a community to receive the national designation include obtaining a wildfire risk assessment, forming a Firewise committee, investing in reducing the community’s wildfire risk and creating an action plan based on the wildfire risk assessment. For Piñon Ridge Estates, the assessment and official designation were pursued in conjunction with the POA’s participation last year in Chaffee Chips, a new slash removal and chipping service funded by Chaffee Common Ground.

Chaffee Chips was created under the direction of the Envision Forest Health Council, a group of more than 30 leaders collaborating to implement the Chaffee County Community Wildfire Protection Plan. The plan identifies effective and realistic actions that will reduce the county’s wildfire risk and improve community readiness, including increasing the number of Firewise USA sites. Piñon Ridge Estates becomes the fourth site in Chaffee County. Others are Maysville, Alpine and St. Elmo.

The Community Wildfire Protection Plan outlines numerous goals to reduce Chaffee County residents’ risk to a wildfire, including Fire Adapted Communities with strong community engagement. Moore continues, “Piñon Ridge becoming a Firewise USA community is a great example of implementing the CWPP through delivering an early win of increasing the total number of sites.”

The 2019 Decker Fire came within a mile and a half of the neighborhood and residents were evacuated. “That wildfire brought home the reality that it could definitely happen to us,” Property Owners Association (POA) Board Chair Craig Sommers said. Last summer, wildfires erupted in California and the Pacific Northwest and then came roaring across Colorado, further precipitating their interest and concern, he said. He and neighbor Ryan Gregory leaned about the large Methodist Front forest treatment project in the local news — a project that will create a 10-mile community fuel break for the Salida-Poncha Springs area.

Piñon Ridge neighbors met with Chaffee County Fire Protection District Battalion Chief Kent Maxwell and CSFS foresters J.T. Shaver and Josh Kuehn, who suggested they get ready for their Chaffee Chips event, which was held in November. They organized community work days to haul slash from a parking and open space area, as well as from around their homes.

“We made a lot of progress last fall with Chaffee Chips that ties in nicely with the Methodist Front project,” Sommers said. As crews loaded slash into trailers during the event to haul them to the landfill for chipping, Chaffee Fire Chief Robert Bertram encouraged the board members to become a Firewise USA site, as a logical step to increase community participation.

Gregory, the POA board secretary, submitted paperwork in December and the designation came through in January of this year. “We did this for increased awareness on our own part, but also to demonstrate to partners who gave us support that we are committed to protecting our community and surrounding areas,” he said.

The Piñon Ridge POA, Chaffee County Fire and CSFS expressed appreciation of residents for their active part in creating defensible spaces in their neighborhood and getting better prepared for an emergency situation.