Partnering Across State Lines to Provide Community Support for the 416 Fire

Smoke from the 416 fire above Durango, CO. Photo: Lori Zazzaro, SJBH

Smoke from the 416 fire above Durango, CO. Photo: Lori Zazzaro, SJBH

Editor’s note

With funding from the City of Santa Fe Fire Department, The Forest Stewards Guild recently created a HEPA filter loan program for the Greater Santa Fe Fireshed Coalition in our efforts to make the landscape more fire adapted.  These portable air filters are available to smoke sensitive individuals during periods of smoke impacts in the area. Learn more about the program here.

The Forest Stewards Guild is partnered with Firewise of Southwest Colorado and Mountain Studies Institute’s San Juan Headwaters Forest Health Partnership. The Forest Stewards Guild recently modeled a Neighborhood Ambassador program after Firewise of Southwest Colorado’s similar program. The Neighborhood Ambassador approach is a mechanism for outreaching to and engaging with neighborhoods to help them understand their wildfire risk and encourage and motivate residents to take action to reduce that risk. When the 416 fire started, we were primed to reach out with our HEPA filters to our colleagues at Firewise and Mountain Studies Institute and they put us in touch with  San Juan Basin Public Health to distribute the filters in the Durango, CO area. Here is a recap of how San Juan Basin Health supported their community during the fire and how the HEPA filters were used.

Community Support For The 416 Fire

During the late morning of June 1, 2018 a fire was reported 10 miles north of Durango on the west side of U.S. Highway 550 at approximately 10 a.m. The fire was growing rapidly, heading northwest and had reached approximately 100 acres in size by noon. Local and U.S. Forest Service resources were on scene fighting the fire.  The fire prompted evacuation of several subdivisions and several others were issued pre-evacuation notices. U.S. Highway 550 was closed for several days.

San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) was called in to the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to support our community in the role of Emergency Support Function (ESF) 8, Public Health and Medical Services, during this emergency.  ESF 8 considerations for the 416 Fire were to provide the community guidance on air quality, water quality, coordinate with public water systems operators in the evacuation and pre-evacuation area, food safety, special medical and assistance needs, behavioral health needs, and to support and find resources for facility evacuations.

SJBPH is a member of the Southwest Colorado Healthcare Coalition (SWCHCC).  The SWCHCC is a collaboration of healthcare organizations, providers, public health departments, emergency medical services, emergency management agencies and community partners working together to enhance regional preparedness and response capabilities.  Utilizing the coalition, ESF 8 provided daily communications regarding fire and guidance communications with clients and staff regarding the fire, specifically planning for the long-term effects of the smoke on the region.  

With air quality advisories in effect daily, SJBPH was considering how we could advise our coalition and community partners with residents with existing respiratory conditions that would be aggravated by the wildfire smoke.  The Forest Stewards Guild contacted us, volunteering usage of four of their HEPA filters.  We were more than happy to take them up on their offer and distributed the filters to a long-term care facility, an assisted living center, and to the shelter for the evacuees.  The long-term care facility positioned the filters in 2 of their more acute respiratory client’s rooms and the assisted living and the shelter positioned the filters in communal areas.

We are very grateful to have the Forest Stewards Guild as a community partner who is willing to assist the residents of La Plata County in our time of need.