Summit Park homeowners take lead in fire mitigation
It may seem unusual to be talking about the threat of wildland fires when there is still several feet of snow on the ground. But, Summit Park homeowner Mike Quinones said now is the perfect time to begin preparing for the upcoming fire season.
Quinones, a former firefighter with a background in wildland fire suppression, has been advocating for community awareness about the threat fires pose in the Summit Park neighborhood for nearly 15 years. He said homeowners have taken active roles in mitigating the danger fire presents to their neighborhood since then.
“There is a lot of stuff that we have done that maybe Summit County isn’t aware of so they haven’t recognized our accomplishments,” he said. “A few other communities are starting to take notice because of all the work we’ve done and they’re wondering why they can’t do the same thing. I think we are the catalyst.”
The Snyderville Basin Special Recreation District recently announced a five-year fire management plan to reduce the risk of fire on a 380-acre open space parcel the district owns in Summit Park.
While Quinones commended the Recreation District for its efforts, he also wanted to highlight the work that individual property owners have done to reduce the risk around their homes. He said the neighborhood is involved in several national programs, including a pilot program under the National Fire Protection Association.
Summit Park is one of seven neighborhoods in the nation selected at the end of 2018 to participate in the 24-month program. The program challenges the neighborhoods to increase participation in active wildfire risk reduction by having 100 percent of homes within a designated boundary complete mitigation tasks, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
“Nationally, it is a problem and people are starting to recognize that it is homeowners’ responsibility to take care of their property,” Quinones said. “Stakeholders are trying to understand why people aren’t being motivated to do this. It is expensive to do a whole hillside or community. But, it isn’t difficult to do things around the home. The national concern is why they aren’t doing it.”
Quinones has started to spread the word among his neighbors and is encouraging them to participate in the program. But, he said, it’s hard to motivate people when there is snow on the ground.
Summit Park has a history of participating in similar initiatives, such as the Firewise program that has encouraged residents to reduce the fire risk around their homes. Summit Park’s homeowners association has implemented several programs that incentivize defensible space tactics such as removing dead or dying trees. Quinones said the homeowners association gave $10,000 in grants to roughly 15 homeowners to get rid of dead trees.
“The simplest things can be done on the weekends to create a defensible space and cutting back brush,” he said. “If you can’t do it yourself, it’s going to cost money. One of the things the homeowners association is trying to do is connect us with other money and grants to help with the costs.”
Quinones said now is the time to start planning for the wildfire season and identifying the projects that need to be done to make the neighborhood safer.
The wildfires that have devastated states across the western end of the country sparked discussions in Summit County about the effects a major wildfire could have on the community. Elected officials have started advocating for better fire mitigation in the Wildland Urban Interface, which designates the neighborhoods in wildland areas that are more susceptible to blazes. They typically contain large amounts of trees and natural landscaping.
Summit County Councilor Glenn Wright has often encouraged these discussions at the Council level. He has had several meetings with the Park City Fire District and the Summit County Fire Warden to better understand the risk of threat in the county.
Wright acknowledged the volunteer work that has been in Summit Park. However, he said the county may have to step in at some point to help with that effort.
“I don’t know how far it can get on a volunteer basis,” he said. “I know the Park City Fire District is working on some things and we have the chipping program. But, the demand got so high last year they ran out of money 2/3 of the way through the season.”
Wright said fire danger is an “enormous problem” in the county. He said the last two fire seasons drew more attention to the risk. He said homeowners who live in the Wildland Urban Interface enjoy the trees that are hanging over their homes, but the area poses the biggest threat. He added, “As pretty as it is, it is not safe.” “It is such a big problem it is, unfortunately, something we are probably not going to tackle in a year or maybe even a couple of years,” he said. “But, I think we have gotten everyone’s attention and the key is we are starting on it. Now is the time before it’s too late.”
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Jenn Armstrong-Solomon provides the services of her trauma-sensitive yoga nonprofit, Tall Mountain Wellness, free of charge to groups like the Summit County Drug Court and the county jail.