Orange cones dotted the side of Big Springs Road on Saturday morning. The snarl of a chain saw ratcheted through the Barker Road trees as a low growl, dense and insistent, rumbled from the mulch spewing chipper. The air was spiced with the scent of pine. The atmosphere among the 16 people at the scene was one of accomplishment as slash and logs were fed into the mouth of the chipper.
The Saws and Slaws volunteers and leaders had just completed the St. Anton’s mitigation project and were on the first day of the Big Springs project. The word mitigation has become ubiquitous, used in newsletters, news articles and referred to after almost every wildfire: buildings that were saved because of responsible homeowners.
The Saws and Slaws mitigation crew takes that word and carries out its definition by rallying neighbors to step up and take control of the fuels on their property, creating a defensible space for firefighters and decreasing the potential for spreading.
Last week was the culmination of a month-long mitigation effort by the St. Anton’s Home Owner’s Association. Other agencies participating in the mitigation effort include Nederland Saws and Slaws, Nederland Fire Protection District, Boulder County Forest Health, High Timber Firewood and Logging, Boulder County Open Space, and ACE Hardware.
Many people volunteered their time to achieve fire mitigation goals that were outlined in Nederland’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP). The CWPP indicated that the St. Anton’s HOA, like almost all of Nederland, needed to work on their roadways to create safer access and egress for first responders and residents during a wildfire event.
NFPD Chief Rick Dirr advised the HOA what fire crews would need for safe access and egress. He drove mitigation organizer Marc McClish though the area and pointed out the safety concerns and issues, offering helpful recommendations and achievable goals for the project.
On June 1, McClish offered a free community wildfire mitigation and chainsaw safety workshop for the HOA. Dan and Marylou Harrison hosted the meeting and Ryan Ludlow and Andrew Notbohm, from Boulder County Forest Health spoke about the home ignition zone and defensible space management.
Phil, Jane and Steve Pitzer of High Timber gave a free chainsaw safety workshop and demonstrated proper felling techniques, how to get a tree down when hung up on another tree and went over chainsaw maintenance. Phil brought forestry gift bags that Steve from ACE Hardware donated in support of the workshop.
On June 8, Nederland Saws and Slaws held a community event to work on the back roads wildfire egress. Thirty-eight volunteers participated in the project and took down several hundred trees and limbed up many more along the roadways. The project focused on removing trees crowding the roadway, creating a few new pullouts for fire trucks and improving sight lines everywhere.
McClish said: “The difference is huge. We had an advantage as we worked on this area because we didn’t have to remove the slash, just stage it roadside for the chipping process. As a result, our volunteers spent the whole workday removing trees and working on improving our egress. This project received 225 volunteer hours.”
On June 27 and 28, Saws and Slaws sponsored its second annual Community Curbside Chipping Program. The HOA used a chipping grant from Boulder County to partially pay for this year’s chipping, McClish said.
Phil and Jane Pitzer brought their chipper for the two days, and 70 homeowners out of 95 with more than 1,000 cubic yards of slash on the roadside to be chipped, participated. Homeowners worked on their defensible spaces, limbing up ladder fuels and removing beetle kill trees.
McClish said, “We feel that we are stronger, safer and more connected as neighbors as a result of working together to achieve these common wildfire mitigation goals that all mountain communities share.”
High Timber continued the chipping on Cougar Run, Conifer, Shady Hollow, Ridge Road and Rocky Knob to finish the St. Anton’s project. Last Saturday, June 29, was the third Saws and Slaws workday this year. More than 30 volunteers gathered at Barker and Big Springs road to work on four properties in the area. There is no doubt that these properties and the properties around them are better off as a result of the hard work done, said Saws and Slaws Organizer Alan Brewer.
Jim and Alisha Reis offered their home as the hosting facility, and McClish and Mark Stringfellow brought a loader and an ATV to aid with the heavy stuff. By noon, the workers had changed the width of access on the road and reduced the fuels surrounding the houses. The volunteers were hot, dirty, covered in sawdust and pine needles but giddy with the sense of having accomplished their goal for the day.
The next Saws and Slaws event will take place on Valleyview in Big Springs on Saturday, July 28, from 8 a.m. to noon with a potluck lunch to follow.