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4 Days in May Fire Mitigation Project

4 Days in May is a program at New Vista High School where the entire school shuts down so students and teachers can join forces to implement meaningful service projects in the community.

The Planning Stage:

For our 4 days in May project, the Community Adventure Program all came together to discuss ideas that would benefit the environment. There were a lot of possibilities that we talked about, including helping animals, cleaning streams, and working on trails. However, after participating in a Socratic Seminar and having several meetings, we concluded with a vote that we would like to coordinate a fire mitigation project to help reduce the fire danger in Boulder County and to promote healthier forests.

The next step was to conduct research to learn more about fire mitigation. We brainstormed a list of questions and then headed to the computer lab to gather information. We then contacted all of the local organizations that coordinate fire mitigation projects in Boulder County to determine who could accommodate our 4 Days in May project. After a couple of weeks of calling, e-mailing and bothering city officials, we finally found an agency that could accommodate us. Chief Brett Gibson with the 4 Mile Fire Department put us in touch with the Colorado State Forest Service – Boulder District and we were on our way.

Day 1:

During our first full day of fire mitigation, we met up with Craig Jones from the Colorado State Forest Service ? Boulder District. Craig took us on a tour to various places in the Nederland Community to observe what healthy and unhealthy forests looked like. We first drove up to a spot off of Magnolia Road to view a thinning project. A private contractor won the right to thin the unhealthy forest and use the materials to resell as fence posts. In return for being able to use these free resources, the contractor had to provide a certain amount of service by improving the land. The material left over from these thinning projects is known as ?slash? and is gathered in piles to be chipped into wood shavings. In the past, these piles of slash were burned, but these wood chips are now used as an energy source for the Nederland Community. After lunch, we took a tour of the Nederland Bio Fuel Center to see how this process worked. The wood chips were sent on a conveyor belt to a boiler that burned the wood chips to heat the Nederland Community Center. We spent the rest of the afternoon collecting large tree branches and giving them to a fellow named Art to be chipped into a dump truck. By the end of the day, we created three full loads of shavings in two hours, which helped produce an abundant source of energy for the Nederland Community Center.

Day 2:

On the second day, Eric Philips of the Boulder County Land Use Department and Bob Bundy and Cory Secher from the Colorado State Forest Service ? Boulder District, took us on a tour of the Four Mile Canyon Community. We went to a few locations where they showed us the unhealthy fuel that built up around this community. Sometimes it seemed as if the homeowners in these communities wanted to be killed in a forest fire. When the government tried to put up street signs and evacuation routes to help homeowners and firefighters in the event of an emergency, the homeowners tore them down. With the veritable maze of confusing roadways in the area, it was easy to see how things could go bad very quickly. The Eric, Bob, and Cory seemed frustrated and there seemed to be no easy solution to bring community members and firefighting efforts together.

After our tour of the Four Mile Community, we spent the rest of the afternoon hauling slash in Batasso near the Boulder Water Treatment Facility. Our goal was to haul the slash to the side of the road so that it could be chipped at a later date for the Nederland
Community Center. This proved to be extremely difficult until late in the day when we formed a fire line. This enabled us to form an efficient line to bring the slash from the bottom of the hill to the top using our whole group. This was a very hard day of work of fire mitigation, but in the end was very fulfilling.

Day 3:

On Wednesday, we went to the Boulder Mountain Lodge to meet up with Chief Brett Gibson of the Four Mile Fire Department. We participated in training given to wildfire fighters called the Introduction to Wildfire Fire Behavior S-190. There was a ton of information presented, but we focused mainly on fire behavior and weather.

A highlight of the day was watching a NOVA movie called Fire Wars. This gave a great overview about the history of wildfires in America and explained why we have been struggling with wildfires for the past century. In 1910 there was a massive wildfire that burned over 20 million acres of land in the Western United States. This was the biggest fire in the history and caused US land managers to adopt a mentality of suppressing fires at all costs.

Approximately 60-70 years after the great fire of 1910, land managers started to realize that fires were actually a natural occurrence and an important part of creating a healthy ecosystem. Fires thinned out invasive plant species and allowed larger trees to grow and flourish. Prescribed burns were allowed and some wildfires were allowed to burn to help reintroduce fires into the forests. This has been controversial because some prescribed burns have gotten out of control and devastated communities such as Los Alamos in New Mexico. The struggle of humans vs. nature will continue until we can come up with a safe way to reintroduce fires without putting people, communities, and businesses in jeopardy.

Impact in the Community:

The CAP definitely had a positive impact in the community. We opened our eyes to the fire danger in Boulder County and lent a helping had to mitigate that problem. According to Bob Bundy, ?your class greatly assisted both the Town of Nederland and the City of Boulder, not to mention all of us working on fire mitigation including the Colorado State Forest Service, Boulder County, and the City of Boulder fire mitigation crews.? Bob estimated that our sweat and hard work would have cost the city approximately $1300.00, so we definitely helped save some money and time by hauling slash and cleaning up the debris from their fire mitigation efforts. Another amazing accomplishment happened Monday when we filled 3 dump trucks full of biofuel to heat the Nederland Community Center in 2 hours when it normally takes one person all day to fill 2 dump trucks. It was great to see this project come to fruition and to see the results of our hard work!

To view the entire photo album of our 4 Days in May Fire Mitigation project, please click on the following link to Ofoto.com.

Categories: Action Projects

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