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Fern Creek

With the Rio Grande River on one side and the Rio Grande National Forest on the other, most people would consider Fern Creek a picture perfect setting. Located approximately 18 miles north of the mineral county, Creede, the community consists of only 15 homes, belonging mostly to individuals who wish to spend their vacation in this scenic environment.

The land is populated with a majority of mixed conifer and aspen forests. But in recent years the mountain pine beetle, a group of insects indigenous to Colorado, has infected and killed a particularly large portion of the conifers in the forest. This results in dry trees and immense enclaves of gray, needleless pines that litter the landscape that poses a potential wildfire threat.

Fern Creek PhotoIn 2008, with the help of the USDA Forest Service and Colorado State Forestry, Fern Creek residents worked on a few possible preparedness action plans for the neighborhood in case a fire threatened their area. According to the Fern Creek’s community representative Bill Gattis, this involved two simultaneous steps: The first included their Big Moose “Revegetation” Project, which focused on ways to harvest, regenerate and treat timber stands killed or infested with spruce beetle. The second part of the plan included having residents work with the Colorado State Forest Service to determine if state or federal grant money might be available to assist residents in creating appropriate defensible space around each of the homes. It was around this time, in early summer 2013, that Fern Creek became a recognized Firewise/USA site.

Shortly after that, in July 2013, the West Fork Fire broke out from a lightning strike north of Pagosa Springs. While everyone was still grasping this news, another fire was ignited by a strike of lightning just a couple miles above the Fern Creek community. The Papoose Fire destroyed approximately 90 acres of forest land. Originally, says Gattis, the residents of Fern Creek were assured the fire wouldn’t reach them. But on that fateful day, the weather conditions were ideal for disaster. There were high winds approaching nearly 50 mph, humidity was at 2-3 percent and there was plenty of dry forest land. The fire was spreading quickly and the residents were asked to evacuate. It was all thanks to the valiant efforts of a huge assemblage of firefighters, that the community was spared.

In the meantime, Fern Creek had entered their community project into the 2013 NFPA/State Farm Firewise Challenge. After the fire had burned itself out and the residents returned to their homes, they learned that their Firewise renewal application had been approved and their project was chosen as a runner-up in the Challenge! As a winner, the community received a $900 award to use on safety gear, tools or mitigation projects. But after much discussion, the community unanimously voted to send the money to the Creede Volunteer Fire Department for their heroic and valiant effort they put in during the Papoose Fire.

Fern Creek PhotoAfter that wake-up call, residents met on several occasions with Forest Service representatives, the Natural Resources Conservation group, the Colorado State Forest Service, the Creede Volunteer Fire Department and officials from Mineral County to continue efforts to make their community as Firewise as possible. In 2014, Fern Creek received a $9,000 matching gift from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources to help continue efforts to enhance the defensible space around homes, create additional firebreaks and remove dry and decaying trees.

All this great work, however, according Future Firewise meetings will focus mainly on property inspection, treatment and further education on Firewise practices.

Fern Creek Photo