Community members and officials discussed fire fuels and fire prevention during an open house on Oct. 4. [Photo courtesy of Rim to Rim Restoration]

Cleanup efforts of accumulated vegetation are underway to help prevent and reduce the risk of catastrophic residential fires in Moab, particularly along the creeks.

Among those helping to establish a concerted effort is Kara Dohrenwend, the director of Rim to Rim Restoration. Rim to Rim Restoration is a nonprofit “dedicated to the reestablishment of native vegetation” in the area — once the accumulated fire fuels are removed, native vegetation can be replanted.

Dohrenwend said on Oct. 19 that not one single entity is “in charge” of the cleanup effort of accumulated fire fuels; the collaborative effort includes the City of Moab, Moab Valley Fire Department, Moab City Police Department, Grand County Sheriff’s Office and the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

Dohrenwend said the agencies have worked for years to mitigate fire fuels, but “what is different now is there is a push to coordinate all efforts better. We can do more working together than we can working as individual entities.”

The push to coordinate the effort comes after the June 12 Cinema Court Fire, where accumulated brush, grasses and undergrowth along the creeks fed the blaze, said Moab City Communications Manager Lisa Church in a press release.

The collective work now includes helping land owners with properties bordering Pack and Mill creeks to clear the accumulated vegetation, including removal of Russian olive trees. Dohrenwend estimated that there are close to 600 acres of “creek-bottomland” that need to be mitigated for fire fuels.

The city, state and county officials hosted a community open house on Oct. 4 to talk about fire fuels and plans to help divert the risk of another fire.

“Ideally, by 2019 we’ll have some strategic locations for fire fuels breaks identified so that we can find ways to ensure some protection throughout the valley while a broader plan is devised to work towards fully defensible creeks by 2028,” Dohrenwend said.

Not everyone was immediately on board with recent efforts to clear Russian olive trees along Pack Creek.

Lee Bridgers’ property on 200 South is adjacent to Pack Creek. Bridgers told the Moab Sun News that he was concerned the removal of the vegetation would scare off the birds in the area, which wouldn’t likely return to nest once the trees were removed. Bridgers said that he made calls to the City of Moab alerting them of the issue.

Dohrenwend conceded that removal of the accumulated fire fuels along the creeks could affect birds, but said “bare creeks aren’t the final goal” of the cleanup effort.

“That is why Rim to Rim Restoration has always promoted a patchwork approach to Russian olive removal, doing it in a slow pattern to allow native vegetation to regenerate in cleared areas, or actively plant if needed, before removing more vegetation,” Dohrenwend said.

Dohrenwend said Russian olive, tamarisk, elm and tree-of-heaven have displaced native vegetation.

“If removal is done with a long-term view in mind, clear an entire 5-acre area 1-acre at a time over 5 years, starting with clearing around native vegetation present, then that impact is much reduced.”

Groups work to mitigate fire fuels along creeks