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Two Years after Waldo Canyon Fire, Colorado Springs Wildfire Mitigation Program in Full Force

In City of Colorado Springs, the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI)- areas where human development is close to natural terrain and flammable vegetation, covers more than 28,800 acres and includes a quarter of our population.  Two years ago this week, the Waldo Canyon Wildfire, the most costly fire in Colorado history, hit neighborhoods across Colorado Springs and destroyed 347 homes. 

The effects were devastating to our community and we are still rebuilding two years later.  However, the losses avoided in some areas such as the Cedar Heights neighborhood, are a testament to the fact that wildfire mitigation works.  Thanks to previous fuels reduction efforts in a nearby park (such as thinning trees and removing dead vegetation), the fire laid down and allowed firefighters to make a direct attack, saving more than 250 homes in the direct path of the fire.

Since 2001, the Colorado Springs Fire Department has established and expanded our Wildfire Mitigation Program to include a multi-pronged approach of community education and outreach, planning, strengthened building codes, fuels management, and grant administration.


 Colorado Springs, Colo., June 24, 2014 -- Amy Sylvester, Colorado Springs Wildfire Mitigation Program Coordinator, speaks to homeowners about how they can protect their homes against wildfires at a neighborhood meeting in 2012. Photo by Christina Randall/CO Springs Fire Department Colorado Springs, Colo., June 24, 2014 -- Amy Sylvester, Colorado Springs Wildfire Mitigation Program Coordinator, speaks to homeowners about how they can protect their homes against wildfires at a neighborhood meeting in 2012. Photo by Christina Randall/CO Springs Fire Department

Homeowners are a critical partner in whether or not we are successful in protecting Colorado Springs against wildfires.  Firefighters cannot do it alone! 

In 2001, we began the “Sharing the Responsibility” campaign to educate homeowners on their key role in the mitigation process.   Currently, the Colorado Springs Wildfire Mitigation Program works with 109 Homeowners Associations and neighborhoods.  We are fortunate to have several “Community Champions” that help promote mitigation efforts, such as organizing annual neighborhood meetings, during which we discuss each neighborhood’s specific hazard-level and discuss mitigation options.  We also provide free property assessments for any homeowner that requests one.

In 2003, we began our Neighborhood Chipping program.  We found that while many homeowners were motivated to take steps to remove fuels from their property, they did not always have the appropriate resources to do so.  After seeing folks driving around town with tree limbs sticking out of their windows in sedans, the Fire Department collaborated with neighborhoods to initiate the chipping program.  Homeowners remove fuel sources from their property, stack it at the end of the road, and we coordinate the chipping and removal of the material at no cost to individuals.  We do this every year between April-October, with a schedule of when we will be visiting each neighborhood.  Due to the demand, we have to schedule by neighborhood and unfortunately cannot respond to individual requests.  We require at least 12 homes in the neighborhood to participate in order to sign up for a chipping date.


 Colorado Springs, Colo., June 24, 2014 -- In this before picture, as you can see, there is a lot of dead vegetation, over growth of grass, and the trees don’t have natural boundaries between them. All of these items are fuel for a wildfire. (Photo by Christina Randall/CO Springs Fire Department) Colorado Springs, Colo., June 24, 2014 -- In this before picture, as you can see, there is a lot of dead vegetation, over growth of grass, and the trees don’t have natural boundaries between them. All of these items are fuel for a wildfire. (Photo by Christina Randall/CO Springs Fire Department)

 Colorado Springs, Colo., June 24, 2014 -- In this after picture, as you can see, all of the dead vegetation and tall grass was removed, and the trees have natural boundaries between them. Steps like these will greatly reduce the spread of wildfires in the City of Colorado Springs. (Photo by Christina Randall/CO Springs Fire Department) Colorado Springs, Colo., June 24, 2014 -- In this after picture, as you can see, all of the dead vegetation and tall grass was removed, and the trees have natural boundaries between them. Steps like these will greatly reduce the spread of wildfires in the City of Colorado Springs. (Photo by Christina Randall/CO Springs Fire Department)

Along with individual properties, clearing out fuels on the common owned open spaces and parks is a critical part of protecting our communities.  With the assistance of state and federal grants (including FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant), throughout the past decade we have been able to target open space areas adjacent to neighborhoods with extreme wildfire risk ratings.  For example, a fuels reduction project in Solitude Park next to the Cedar Heights neighborhood was completed prior to the Waldo Canyon Fire and played a key role in protecting that community. 

After the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire, Colorado Springs established an Ignition Resistant Construction Ordinance, which outlines building requirements for any new structures in the designated Hillside Overlay Zone of the city.  Investigators discovered that the source of ignition for more than 50% of all homes destroyed in the Waldo Canyon Fire was fire brands or embers.  These embers are carried by the wind ahead of the main fire and start small spot fires where they land. 

This evidence reinforced the need to have strict ignition resistant construction guidelines for areas of the community with the highest risk.  Requirements in this ordinance include the use of Class-A ignition-resistant roofing materials, double-paned windows, attic vent screens, and non-combustible decking materials (i.e. composite or metal) instead of wood.  All homes in this area must also have a 15’ clearance of trees and brush from the main structure.  We developed the corresponding Ignition Resistant Construction Design Manual  which includes diagrams and pictures of each requirement.  The Fire Department is also a part of the city permitting and final inspection process on any new homes or home renovations in the Hillside Zone.

Last year, we also began a Wildfire Mitigation Stipend Pilot Program.  So far, we have mitigated 582 homes through this program, which provides a dollar-for-dollar cost share (up to $500 reimbursement) for homeowners in selected high-risk communities to mitigate their properties.  The program is funded through private foundations, state grants and insurance industry donations.

We continue to work with neighborhoods, private industry, and our state and federal partners to develop a cohesive, comprehensive strategy to protect Colorado Springs against wildfires. 

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed by Christina Randall do not necessarily represent the official views of the United States, the Department of Homeland Security, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA does not endorse any non-government organizations, entities, or services.

75 Days after the SR 530 Slide, Recovery Continues in Washington State

The Sounds of Recovery: We’re Listening

We’re listening, and all around, we hear the sounds of recovery. Like the sounds of silence, the sounds of recovery can be as profound as the devastation surrounding it. We’re listening, and by the sounds we are hearing, we see hope – all around.  Here are three signs of some of the recovery work happening in Washington:

The SR 530 Slide song created by local residents served as one source of healing for all survivors.

Out of the devastation, they created music. One of the many inspiring examples of people turning from loss toward recovery is on the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe reservation, where a group of eight girls wrote a song to honor the school friends they lost in the SR 530 slide.

The girls wrote the song with the help of Grammy-winning musician Star Nayea. 

“When you’re faced with tragedy that’s only 20 miles down the road from you, it’s unfathomable,” Nayea said. “There are no words to describe or capture the feeling it brings sharing this gift of healing power of music. It is a priceless gift and privilege, and honor of having an opportunity to make a difference in someone's life.”

The girls, members of the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe, Tulalip tribes and the town of Darrington, are an example of survivors from different communities uniting while sharing in the healing process. Together, the girls beat a two-day deadline to get their song rehearsed and ready to perform. They sang their song “Oso Strong Highway 530,” during one of the first community recovery meetings, which was held in Darrington on April 3. Their performance in Darrington was covered by local news outlets.

 Sauk-Suiattle, WA Darrington, Wash., May 21, 2014 -- Sauk-Suiattle elder Mary Jack displays her Native American summer dress. Elder Jack helped girls from the Suak-Suiattle Tribe, Tulalip Tribes and Darrington as they composed the song "Oso Stong Highway 530," which they performed at the Darrington Community meeting, April 3, 2014. The girls experienced the healing power of song as they put their feelings to paper and music.

Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe elder Mary Jack, enrolled at Tulalip, worked closely with the girls to write the song during their spring break from school. It was especially tough timing for a school vacation, so soon after the tragedy, but Jack found that working on the song was a positive, productive project that kept the girls focused on the positive.     

“‘Oso Strong Highway 530’ has helped the girls in so many ways,” Jack said. “Maybe the song will help the community start to heal, too.”

            An excerpt from the song “Oso Strong Highway 530”:

Oso strong Arlington, Skaglund Hill.

Oso life, Steelhead Drive we won’t forget you!

Oso bright, is the light…

We search to find!

 

Threads of our community are frayed.

We all must rise up, to pray!

Painful memories… may never fade.

Life will go on, starting today!

 

©Copyright 2014, all rights reserved. Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe, Darrington, Wash.

Composed and performed by: Kaylee Frazee, Sarah Larson, Jordan Maltos, Malia Maltos, Raime McCord, Kyla Roundface, Natalie Stewart.

Produced and arranged by: Star Nayea

Local residents expressed their thanks and appreciation to first responders in several ways

 Sok-Sue-attle) tribe said “thank you” to 80 first responders and volunteers by making a traditionally prepared salmon dinner. Photo by Patricia Hayden/FEMA - Location: Seattle, WA Seattle, Wash., June 1, 2014 -- A Pike Place Market fish monger sells salmon, which is a vital aspect of the history, culture and industry in areas directly impacted by the State Route 530 Slide that occurred on March 22, 2014. One month after the slide, on April 24, members of the Sauk-Suiattle (pronounced: Sok-Sue-attle) tribe said “thank you” to 80 first responders and volunteers by making a traditionally prepared salmon dinner. Photo by Patricia Hayden/FEMA

Members of the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe said “thank you” to first responders and emergency workers on April 24 by preparing a traditional meal of salmon, which is one of the most vital economic, cultural and historic elements of the communities that were directly impacted by the slide. The salmon dinner acknowledged the recovery work – much of which continues – of the National Guard, Darrington firefighters and the Bellingham Incident Management Team. The salmon was cooked outdoors, according to tradition, on the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe reservation.

Caregivers were able to take time to decompress and reflect on their SR 530 Slide recovery experiences and craft a personal self-care plan for future use.

They talked out their feelings. In Everett, where the Washington Military Department Emergency Management Division and FEMA continue partnering together in SR 530 slide recovery in the joint field office, the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance National Response Team recently hosted a “Care for the Caregiver” workshop. During the seven-hour session, volunteers and emergency workers who cared for others after the SR 530 slide, including two specialists with FEMA who personally contacted those who lost loved ones in the tragedy, exchanged their stories.

“I could feel the weight lifting from my shoulders” said FEMA Disaster Recovery Center Manager Wendy Newsom.

Many of the self-care techniques discussed during the workshop are simple steps that can be taken anywhere. For instance, those with limited personal time or space can create a healing center, anywhere, by lighting candles and bringing items like leaves, stones or flowers indoors. A simple meditation rock or leaf can inject a breath of nature into indoor work space.

Workshop participants discussed the need to identify and reach out to people who are willing to listen. Talking through feelings with someone else about what happened can be a rich source of healing. 

Everett, Wash., May 14, 2014 -- FEMA Applicant Services Program Specialist William Wigley and Disaster Recovery Center Managers Rosemary Sculthrope and Wendy Newsom discuss self-care techniques during a “Care for Caregivers” workshop by the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance National Response Team on May 14-15 at the Joint Field Office in Everett. The workshop presented simple steps anyone can incorporate into their busy schedules.Everett, Wash., May 14, 2014 -- FEMA Applicant Services Program Specialist William Wigley and Disaster Recovery Center Managers Rosemary Sculthrope and Wendy Newsom discuss self-care techniques during a “Care for Caregivers” workshop by the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance National Response Team on May 14-15 at the Joint Field Office in Everett. The workshop presented simple steps anyone can incorporate into their busy schedules.

As recovery continues, help is still available…

Information and links to multi-agency resources are available on the Snohomish County website.

Those directly impacted by the SR 530 Slide may call a help line operated by the state of Washington. The number is (800) 688-3469. Hours of operation for the help line are Monday –Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Pacific Daylight Time. More information is available from Washington’s Emergency Management Division.

SR 530 Slide survivors can also continue to speak directly with FEMA representatives by calling the FEMA help line. The number is (800) 621-FEMA (3362). 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS) is available through this number. Survivors who use TTY, may call (800) 462-7585. The toll-free telephone numbers will operate from 4 a.m. to 7 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time, seven days a week.

More information is available about the SR 530 slide disaster declaration.

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