Grand Junction Field Office – Wildfire Mitigation & Education
The Grand Junction Field Office primarily works with landowners and federal, state and local agencies in Delta, Garfield, Mesa, Pitkin and Rio Blanco counties. We provide technical assistance for wildfire mitigation around homes and in subdivisions.
- Protect your Home, Property & Forest
- Things to Consider when Creating a Defensible Space in Western Colorado
- Community Wildfire Protection Plans
- Fire Restrictions
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 also enhance wildlife habitat, improve access and overall appearance.
Excessive fire suppression and fuel buildup on the landscape 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
- 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.
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.
There are steps that homeowners can take (50 KB PDF) prior to leaving the home due to a wildfire. These steps should only be taking IF there is time to do so. Follow the directions of your local sheriff or fire department personnel.
In rural areas, a residential fire can spread into the wildland and there are some steps homeowner can take place to mitigate a fire from spreading (120 KB PDF), such as having a sprinkler systems, ensuring your smoke alarms are working and having a fire extinguisher. These things can make a difference, especially against small fires.
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 elements 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 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 (5 MB PDF). See the following PDFs for additional information on fire embers and how to prepare your home:
- Be Ember Aware from the University of Nevada (3.2 MB PDF)
- Be Embers Aware from Texas A&M University (1.2MB PDF)
Defensible space is the area around a home or other structure that has been modified to reduce fire hazard. In this area, natural and man-made fuels are treated, cleared or reduced to slow the spread of wildfire.
Creating defensible space also works in the reverse, and reduces the chance of a structure fire spreading to neighboring homes or the surrounding forest. Defensible space gives your home a fighting chance against an approaching wildfire.
Creating an effective defensible space involves a series of management zones in which different treatment techniques are used. Develop these zones around each building on your property, including detached garages, storage buildings, barns and other structures.
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 the edge of a structure. The width can vary in size depending on the size of the property and steepness 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 percentage of structures are lost in a wildfire due to an ember being blown against the structure and falling to the ground and landing in a bed of dead twigs and/or leaves created by vegetation OR in wood or rubber landscaping mulch located next to the structure. This can be avoided by following Defensible Space standards and keeping the area around the structures maintained.
Read about the combustibility of different types of landscape mulches (1 MB PDF)
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 dead leaves from accumulating. A fact sheet of Firewise plant materials (280 KB PDF) has been produced. There is also a booklet on Firewise construction, design and materials (1.3 MB PDF) 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 this zone depends on the slope around the structure. Typically, the zone should extend at least 100 feet from all structures (this includes Zone 1). Within this zone, the following is recommended:
A) Trees and shrubs should be thinned so there is at least 15 foot spacing between the edges of tree crowns. Crown separation is measured from the edge of the branches on one tree to the nearest tree branch on the neighboring tree, not the spacing of the tree trunks. 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 the fire will 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 through the property without too much destruction to the vegetation.
Defensible space is not a onetime activity, it is an annual activity; the homeowner must maintain the property as vegetation continues to grow and leaf litter accumulates.
Learn how to protect your home from wildfire by viewing our Home Ignition Zone Guide (2.7 MB PDF) and call the Grand Junction Field Office at (970) 248-7325 for more assistance.
Additional information on wildfire mitigation and wildfire behavior:
- Cheatgrass is a non-native, very flammable grass that prefers areas that have been disturbed. Cheatgrass should be removed or kept to a minimum. For more information, read Cheatgrass and Wildfire (335 KB PDF).
Below is a selection of YouTube videos that help explain wildfire behavior and how to prevent home ignition:
- Radiant Heat Verses Firebrands (embers) (3:33 min)
- Your Home Can Survive a Wildfire (13:19)
- Understanding Fire Behavior in the Wildland Urban Interface (20:51)
- If Your Home Doesn’t Ignite, it Can’t Burn (1:59)
- Wildfire: Prevent Home Ignition P.1 (10:07)
- Wildfire: Prevent Home Ignition P.2 (8:57)
If your property is in piñon-juniper woodlands, thinning to reduce wildfire hazards requires 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.
In piñon-juniper woodlands, extra precautions also 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.
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 (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 Field Office will help! Visit the CSFS CWPP page and call our office with any questions.
Fire Restrictions in Western Colorado
Fire restrictions will vary across the state and by government agency. It is always best to confirm you have the most recent information before burning any material or starting a camp fire.
U.S. Forest Service – Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests
West Slope Fire Information (Delta, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Montrose, Ouray and San Miguel counties)
Upper Colorado River – U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) (Western Colorado)
Colorado Division Fire Prevention and Control (all of Colorado)
- USFS – Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests (GMUG)
- Firewise USA®
- Fire adapted communities
- U.S. BLM
- Mesa County Wildfire Council
- West Region Wildfire Council