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Fire Season: The Wildland-Urban Collision

By Amanda Loudin, Mountain Outlaw Contributor

Shelly Olson understands well the danger of wildfires to people, public lands and private property. As assistant chief for the Grand Fire Protection District No. 1 in Granby, Colorado, Olson also volunteers as chair for Grand County’s wildfire council. She spent much of her 2020 summer helping disseminate information and educate the public on these topics, not only in Colorado, but in other parts of the West as well.

It was some sort of cruel plot twist, then, that in October, Olson lost her home to the East Troublesome Fire. “We had done a good deal of mitigation, clearing dead and downed trees in the area,” she says. “We had a marshy wetland nearby and a lot of open space and green grass.”

The Olsons also lived in a home built with fire prevention in mind: the right materials, the right landscaping and the right ignition zone, referring to the 200 feet surrounding a home that can make a property vulnerable to fire. In spite of it all, the Olson home was one of 300 destroyed in Grand Lake by the fire that burned through more than 200,000 acres. “The winds were coming in at over 100 miles per hour,” says Olson.

While Olson heard repeatedly that the East Troublesome Fire was unprecedented—and it was in terms of size—she also knew that wildfires in the West are getting bigger, longer and more dangerous. As more people move into the wildland-urban interface—where the forests meet communities— lives and properties are more vulnerable than ever. To stand a fighting chance, an all-hands-on-deck approach is needed, say experts like Olson.

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