EL PASO COUNTY – The Waldo Canyon Fire was just miles away in 2012.
Then, the Black Forest Fire burned across I-25 in 2013.
Residents in the Red Rock Ranch HOA have watched mammoth wildfires burn all around them. Now, they’re turning that fear into action.
The HOA of more than 200 homes became a Firewise community in 2017 — recognizing the need for mitigation. Elizabeth Lonnquist, president of the HOA, said the reach of the Waldo Canyon Fire drove the message home.
“Waldo Canyon Fire really impressed me as I was driving down Powers [Boulevard], and unable to see 20 feet ahead, that my neighborhood could be next,” Lonnquist said.
Earning that recognition required Red Rock Ranch to develop a Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP), which outlines their intentions and goals for the next 10 years.
Data developed as part of the plan shows that just 33 percent of the properties have done some mitigation, while two-thirds of the homes lie in fire-prone areas deemed severe by experts. The neighborhood shares edges with the national forest, including an abundance of ponderosa pine and scrub oak.
Firefighters providing site analysis to the community have compared it to Paradise, California. They have a similar design and fuels in the area. Paradise was flattened by the ‘Camp Fire’ in late 2018.
That’s where a pilot program from Firewise comes in.
Dave Betzler, a resident of the HOA and chair of the Red Rock Ranch Firewise Committee, said it’s an effort to protect their homes from an inevitable threat.
“It’s just a matter of a spark or embers coming through, a lightning strike, any of those things. It’s just a tragedy waiting to happen,” Betzler said.
Over the next two years, Betzler and co. will aim to increase the reduction of wildfire hazards across the community as a ‘Site of Excellence’. They’re trying to do mitigation on half of the HOA’s properties.
After that, they’ll report back to Firewise to hone in best practices on persuading resistant homeowners on the benefits of mitigation.