County, on the western slope in Colorado, covers 3,309 square
miles, much of which is owned and controlled by the Bureau of Land
Management and the U.S. Forest Service. One million acres of BLM land
covers Mesa County with an additional 600,000 acres in the Grand
Mesa and Uncompahgre
National Forests. There are 340,000 private land acres in the
WUI in Mesa County. At 4,386 to 10,800 feet in altitude, the vegetation
varies from dry and desert-like to dense forests. Pinyon, juniper,
sage grass and gambel oak brush occupy the lower areas transitioning
to aspen, mountain mahogany, oak brush, service berry, and ponderosa
pine. Higher elevations see Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir.
Mesa County has a population of 116,255 people
scattered in 15 communities with
Grand Junction as the largest city. According to the 2000
US Census, Mesa County's median household income is $35,864
with a median home price of $118,900 of which only 1% are seasonal
homes. Glade Park, Unaweep Canyon Corridor, and Plateau Valley are
the areas at greatest risk in Mesa County. Glade Park is especially
hazardous given the mix of hazardous fuels, homes and occurrence
of lightning strikes.
Recent fires have raised awareness of the
wildfire hazard. In 2002 the Dierich Fire in Glade Park necessitated
the evacuation of 230 homes and burned 2,500 acres. In 2003, the
Maverick Fire burned 1,400 acres south west of Grand
Junction and the JB fire burned 1,007 acres on Bureau of Land
Addressing the Threat
Mesa County coordinates its response to the wildfire
threat through several local, state and federal agencies and organizations.
The Interagency Fire Advisory Board (IFAB) is the main coordinating
body in Mesa County. IFAB was established in 1996 and is made up
the USFS, BLM, NPS, CSFS, the sheriff's office, and County Emergency
Management. IFAB provides a forum for discussing fire issues, potential
and on-going projects, training opportunities and reviews of fire.
IFAB has met inconsistently since its inception with periods of
meeting in regular monthly sessions interspersed with long periods
of no meetings. While IFAB may not provide a consistent means of
contact and communication among the various agencies and organizations
in Mesa County, it is clear that good relationships and ad hoc communication
exist between the county employees and the federal and state agencies
that must coordinate when wildfire occurs.