Grand Junction District

The Grand Junction District works with federal, state and local agencies in Delta, Garfield, Mesa, Pitkin and Rio Blanco counties. We provide technical assistance and funding for wildfire mitigation around homes and in subdivisions.

Wildfire Mitigation

The Grand Junction District works with federal, state and local agencies in Delta, Garfield, Mesa, Pitkin and Rio Blanco counties. We provide technical assistance and funding for wildfire mitigation around homes and in subdivisions.

District personnel also work with private landowners and land management agencies (BLM, USFS) to provide technical assistance for fire mitigation thinning and fuel reduction programs. We assist homeowner groups and subdivisions in wildfire pre-planning activities and provide information and education support through Colorado’s Are you Firewise? program and the State Fire Assistance Cost-Share program.

Fire is a part of forest ecology. It is not a matter of if it happens, but when it happens, especially in Western Colorado. Low-intensity fires reduce fuel buildup, thus helping reduce a forest’s susceptibility to insect infestations and disease outbreaks. Additionally, fire helps recycle nutrients back into the soil and creates a fertile environment for seeds to germinate. Forest fires can enhance wildlife habitat and improve access and appearance.

Excessive fire suppression and fuel buildup have negative impacts on forest health and the humans and wildlife that inhabit the area. However, land managers and homeowners can take preventive measures to reduce the occurrence of catastrophic wildfires. Such actions include clearing dead and downed materials, thinning tree stands to reduce density and removing other hazardous fuels. Allowing naturally occurring fires to burn without interference or applying fire through prescribed burning can help prevent intense crown fires and maintain a healthy forest.

Protect Your Home, Property and Forest

Homeowners can take steps to protect their property and reduce the risk of a wildfire destroying their home. Preventive measures include clearing excess fuel, creating defensible space around their home and using FireWise practices.

Due to the arid climate and fire-dependent forests in Western Colorado, many homeowners and landowners may be particularly vulnerable to wildfires. It is important to keep this threat in mind when buying or building a home. Two factors have emerged as the primary determinants of a home's ability to survive wildfires: having fire-resistant roofing, siding and porch materials, and creating a wildfire defensible zone around the home. Fire-resistant roofing material should be rated Class A when building a home in or near forests or grasslands. Read about What a Fire Safe Roof is composed of here. Avoid flammable roof materials such as wood or shake shingles at all costs.

Fire embers can travel a mile or more in front of the main body of fire. Your home's construction can be a KEY factor in its ability to survive a wildfire. Researchers at the University of California put together a publication on Home Survival in Wildfire-Prone Areas and Building Materials and Design Considerations.

Defensible space zones around a home.

The area called Defensible Space has three zones.

Zone 1 is where the bulk of the vegetation modification takes place. The width of Zone 1 extends a minimum distance of 15-30 feet outward from a structure, depending on property size. The width measured from the edge of the structure. The width can vary in size depending on the percent of the surrounding slope. As slope becomes steeper, the vegetation must be mitigated at a greater distance to compensate for the heat and wind moving up the slope.

Within Zone 1, several specific treatments are recommended:

A) Plant no large shrubs or trees or allow any plants to grow within 5 feet of any structure. If landscaped grass is allowed to grow in the area around the structure it must at 6 inches or less.

A large percent of structures are lost in a wildfire due to an ember landing in a bed of dead twigs/leaves created by vegetation OR landscaping mulch located next to the structure or blown against the structure and falling to the ground. This can be avoided by following Defensible Space standards and keeping the area around the structures maintained.

B) There is an exception to the above rule if the structure(s) are built with non-combustible siding, such as rock or stucco. Widely spaced foundation plantings of low growing shrubs or other "fire-wise" plants are acceptable within 3 to 5 feet of the structure. These shrubs must be kept small, watered and given yearly maintenance to prevent any amount of dead leaves to accumulate. A fact sheet of FireWise plant materials has been produced. There is also a booklet on FireWise construction, design and materials that gives details on home design, which can reduce a home's flammability.

C) It is ideal to remove all flammable vegetation, specifically native trees, in Zone 1 to reduce fire hazards. If a native tree is kept in Zone 1 it should be considered part of the structure and the zone extended out around it. The tree should be isolated from other surrounding trees by at least 15 to 20 feet. Landscaped trees, particularly deciduous species (leaves drop in fall), are allowed in Zone 1 as long as there are no shrubs growing beneath them which would increase the amount of fuel available to a fire and the plants must be on a watering system to insure adequate plant moisture.

Zone 2 is an area of fuel reduction designed to diminish the intensity (wind, heat, smoke) of any wildfire approaching the structure. The width of Zone 2 depends on the slope around the structure. Typically, the zone should extend at least 100 feet from all structures (this includes zone one). Within this zone, the following is recommended:

A) Trees and shrubs should be thinned so there is at least a 10-foot space between the edges of tree crowns. Crown separation is measured from the furthest branch on one tree to the nearest tree branch on the neighboring tree. On steeper slopes, allow more space between tree crowns as fire moves faster uphill.

B) Small groups of two or three trees may be left in some areas of Zone 2 to create a more natural appearance, but leave a minimum of 30 feet between the crowns of these clumps and surrounding trees.

C) Ladder fuels, such as small shrubs, young trees and very low growing branches, should be removed from beneath remaining trees. These fuels can feed a wildfire and produce greater heat and intensity.

The main goal of defensible space is for a wildfire to encounter Zone 2, slow down its rate of movement and decrease its intensity, then encounter Zone 1 where combustible vegetation is minimal, therefore the wildfire cannot make direct contact with the structure and the wind will move the wildfire past without too much destruction to the vegetation. Defensible space is not a onetime activity; it must be maintained by the homeowner every year as vegetation continues to grow.

Learn how to protect your home from wildfire by creating Wildfire-Defensible Zones around your home and call the Grand Junction District for more assistance.

Additional Information on making your property more defensible:

Things to Consider when Creating a Defensible Space in Western Colorado

A dense clump of gamble oak grows next to a home.

If your property is in Piñon-Juniper woodlands, thinning to reduce wildfire hazards has different techniques then thinning in other forest types. Follow these tips to help reduce your forest's flammability around your home: Thinning to Meet CSFS Defensible Space Mitigation Standards.

Also in Piñon-Juniper woodlands, extra-special precautions must be taken against attracting the Piñon Ips beetle when removing live (green) trees, read this information to prevent attracting the beetle to your property: Slash Management with Regard to Ips Beetle.

Reducing the clump’s density helps mitigate wildfire potential, and the shrub is now healthier and more attractive.

Plants are available that have a lower flammability rating, check out Firewise Plant Materials to learn what plants would do well in your area. To determine the flammability of plants you currently have around your home, Firewise Maryland has created a great guide to help landowners: Plant Flammability Key.

Contractors in Western Colorado who specialize in tree removal and defensible space creation are available to help with reducing the vegetation around your home. For a current list of forestry contractors, please visit our Forest Management page.

Community Wildfire Protection Plans

Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPPs) represent the best opportunity we have to address the challenges of the wildland-urban interface (WUI) in a way that brings about comprehensive and locally supported solutions.

Any community can create a CWPP and the Grand Junction District will help! Visit the CSFS CWPP page and call our office with any questions.

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