Rodeo Road fuel break addresses Mount Princeton wildfire threat

Nearby homeowners create defensible space to increase wildfire resiliency through programs supported by Common Ground

A wildfire mitigation project at the base of Mount Princeton southwest of Buena Vista was completed in 2023, creating a forested fuel break along Rodeo Road to protect the community from a fast-moving wildfire that could start high up on the mountain in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness.

“If a wildfire starts up there, it’s going to be a Decker fire level of intensity at minimum, and the prevailing winds would push it toward the community,” said forester Josh Kuehn with the Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) Salida Field Office. The Decker Fire burned for nearly six weeks in 2019 on Methodist Mountain south of Salida, destroying one home as hundreds were evacuated.

Kuehn said the fuel break results from selectively removing trees to reduce the intensity of a potential canopy fire. Canopy fires spread quickly from one treetop to the next. The most intense type of wildfire, they often are the most difficult to contain, especially in high winds.

The fuel break provides a chance for a fire to move to the ground and slow down with the help of first responders. Trees are thinned so the tops are no longer touching each other. At the same time, homeowners in nearby subdivisions have worked with Colorado Firecamp and the Southwest Conservation Corps to allow the thinning of trees on residential lots, which compliments the fuel break and creates a larger area of wildfire resiliency.

Dozens of landowners in the area have removed brush and limbed tree branches since 2020 by participating in Chaffee Chips, a slash haul away service, and in Chaffee Treats, a program that connects private property treatments in priority areas as defined in the Chaffee County Community Wildfire Protection Plan.

The fuel break is funded by a CSFS State Fire Assistance Grant with matching funds from Chaffee Common Ground. Work on individual lots continues, as students hone their sawyer skills through Colorado Firecamp’s wildland firefighting classes.

The Mount Princeton project is among several large fuel breaks underway or completed since the community wildfire plan was updated in 2020. Additional projects are located along the Arkansas River north of Buena Vista, in the North Cottonwood Creek drainage northwest of Buena Vista, on Coyote Valley Road west of Nathrop, on the Methodist Front south of Salida and Poncha Springs, and on Poncha Pass.

More than 5,000 acres have been thinned since 2020. For more information about wildfire mitigation across the county, review the Forest Health Council’s Annual Report to the Community.