Wildfire is a fact of life for many in the arid Southwest, and over the years it’s become an annual event as the summers become drier and hotter. Too often news is filled with the amount of property destroyed in the latest blaze or the loss of life in the inferno. That isn’t the only narrative though, and local filmmaker Christi Bode found a way to tell her story in a short film in a Plumtaw Fire. You’re watching the “Local News Network”, brought to you by Kroegers Ace Hardware and Serious Texas Bar-B-Q. I’m Wendy Graham Settle.
Me and my husband had only been in Pagosa, living over here for a few months, although neither one of us are foreign to wildfires in the Colorado landscape. It hits in a very different way when it’s close to your home. So I got notification of the fire’s start when I was actually out on a different shoot in the Four Corners area on my phone, and called home, called my husband, and said, “Hey, can you take a look out there to the north “from our porch, see what’s going on.” And next text I get from him is a picture of a huge plume of smoke. It was the Plumtaw Fire had started about seven miles to the north, about the north, northwest of city, or town of Pagosa Springs. I do a lot of these stories for a living and I show up and capture a lot of the post-fire footage, talk a lot about the recovery process. But for some reason in my mind, I thought, “Oh, there’s a grace period “for when you move into your new home and a new community “that you get for when a wildfire starts.” But no, here you go, we’re right in it and kind of living this reality that I really try and communicate and educate through my films.
The Plumtaw Fire started on May 17th, 2022. The fire caused immediate concern, as not only was it in the position to threaten the town of Pagosa Springs, but it was also in dangerous proximity to Dutton Ditch, one of the primary sources of drinking water for the town. As the summer was already abnormally dry and windy, the conditions seemed ripe for a devastating wildfire.
The Headwaters Partnership, together with the San Juan National Forest, had gone out and identified a particular area that could be used as a holding feature essentially, and had gone out just the year before in 2021 and brushed out along the road and done some fuels reduction treatments that ended up being utilized in managing that wildfire the following year.
The San Juan Headwaters Forest Health Partnership is a science-based forest management group that focuses on the Pagosa Springs area, as well as the Pagosa Ranger District as part of the San Juan National Forest. When the partnership identified Dutton Ditch as an area of focus, one of the tasks to alleviate fire danger was to provide fire mitigation along Four Mile Road.
And this is why this stories are so complex, is that there’s no guarantee that any action or pre-planning like that is going to result in a holding feature being used or even make it accessible and usable. All it does is increase decision space.
That increased decision space in the case of the Plumtaw Fire is what eventually led to the fire’s success story. Incident commanders, rangers and other personnel were able to create a plan of action to combat the fire before it burned out of control. That story of a community coming together is the story Bode tells in her documentary.
That you don’t typically hear about the things that go right, and it was also important that it was a story that communicated that fire isn’t necessarily bad and it’s something that’s necessary within the landscape. It was really important that we create a message that brings people along.
“Plumtaw Fire” premiered earlier this year on the one year anniversary of the fire in Pagosa Springs. The documentary aims to bring attention and awareness to the importance of talking about fire, encouraging people to engage in the conversations of the impacts of fire on the landscapes around us, and hopefully show that not all fires end in destruction and loss. Find more information about this and other stories at durangolocal.news. Thank you for watching this edition of the “Local News Network”. I’m Wendy Graham Settle.