CENTENNIAL, Colo. – Colorado National Guard Soldiers of the 1157th Engineer Firefighting Company were at it again in early September – but this time, they were working on methods to prevent fires instead of fighting them.
The firefighters worked with the Bureau of Land Management and Platte Lower Valley Fire District in the region of Grand Junction as well as communities in forested areas for fire mitigation operations was to help decrease the vulnerability of homes and structures in a wildland fire.
Many dirt roads used by residents – 50 percent of whom only reside there seasonally – are in areas that can be difficult to traverse by large fire trucks, so the firefighters assisted in making the roads passable.
“There was a lot of debris in the area,” said Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Wimmer, readiness noncommissioned officer for 1157th. “Many people in the community showed up to work with us.”
The Soldiers also made recommendations such as clearing brush in a 10- to 15-foot perimeter around a house or structure so a fire is less likely to affect the building, storing a woodpile 50 to 100 feet away from a structure, clearing out overgrown brush that could easily catch and spread fire, and clear areas around sheds where flammable liquids are often stored.
“We walked through the property with the homeowners,” Wimmer said. “We showed them what to look for and pointed out dangerous areas, then recommend things they can do to mitigate.”
Wimmer said the response from residents was very positive.
“They were happy to work alongside us and appreciative of the recommendations and the work we did,” he said.
The firefighters typically perform their annual training in areas along the Western Slope not only because of the high fire danger there, but also because the smaller communities typically have small, volunteer fire departments with limited resources, he said.
“This operation gave the newer guys a lot of experience driving the fire trucks and familiarizing them with mitigation processes, as well as working with the community and other fire organizations.” Wimmer said.