Mountain News: Sizing up risk of smoke and wildfire in mountain towns 

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ASPEN, Colo.—Across the North American West, mountain towns fret about summer wildfire season even as snow lingers.

Aspen had a scare last year, nearly losing its electricity on the July 4th weekend, the result of a 12,500-acre wildfire about 32 kilometres down the valley near Basalt. Two transmission lines had gone down, and flames were licking up the wooden pole of a third transmission line when firefighters arrived. Had they not, Aspen would necessarily have participated in candle-light dinners.

Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo told the Aspen Daily News he wants to discuss a June to October fireworks ban this week. The big fireworks show in Aspen has already been altered, although for reasons not to do with fire danger. Instead, it is being replaced by a laser show that relies on drone technology.

Across the Elk Range from Aspen, the Crested Butte-Gunnison communities have kicked off a year-long wildfire planning exercise, reported the Crested Butte News.

Molly Mowery, who conducts land-use planning for Wildfire Planning International, has been retained to help the locals create plans with wildfire in mind. Landscaping regulations, watershed management plans, and building codes will be examined along with design standards for subdivisions.

Mowery said, according to the News, that the pilot program was launched in Colorado's Summit County. There, she said, the Community Planning Assistance for Wildfire program "found a real opportunity to look at not just where wildfires could be better inserted into land use documents, but where land use could be better inserted into wildfire documents."

Mountain Village, Telluride's municipal sibling, is offering residents rebates of up to 50 per cent for mitigation work, up to $5,000, when property owners create defensible space.

"If a homeowner creates defensible space by utilizing our incentive program in combination with a non-flammable roof, the structure's chance of survival in a wildfire is 99 per cent. A structure has only a four per cent survival rate if the roof is flammable and no defensible action occurs on a property," said Michelle Haynes, the town's planning and development services director.

Also in the San Juans, La Plata County had a notable uptick in bad air-quality days last year, which the Durango Herald said is likely the result of smoke from the 416 Fire.

At Lake Tahoe, a 38-home subdivision has measures in response to wildfire risk that the developer said hopes will serve as a "gold standard model" for other developments in mountain communities.

Chris Nelson, the developer, established a forest-management and fuel-reduction plant that must be carried out before the homes are built, explained the Sierra Sun. In addition, each building will be equipped with advanced communications systems under control of the local fire district, which will send out early warning signals in case of fire.

The 279-square-metre homeowners' association building will be constructed with materials that will allow it to be a shelter-in-place facility for all residents if evacuation is not possible.

Banff expecting to see fewer Chinese visitors

BANFF, Alta.—Banff's leading tourism organization has been rethinking its marketing strategy in light of geopolitical tensions between the Chinese and Canadian governments.

Leslie Bruce, president of Banff Lake Louise Tourism, said her organization intends to diversify its marketing, putting more focus on Australia, South Korea and Mexico. It also plans to target France.

"We're not giving up on that market, but we're certainly not as bullish about the growth opportunities there," Bruce said during a recent meeting covered by the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

In December, the chief financial officer of Huawei, China's leading telecom company and the world's third largest manufacturer of smart phones, was arrested in Vancouver on a warrant out of the United States. She is charged with engaging in bank and wire fraud in violation of American sanctions against Iran. She has denied any wrongdoing.

Bruce said the geopolitical fallout has not been felt directly in Banff, but her counterparts in Toronto and Vancouver have told her they've noticed an impact.

The Banff organization has been pushing winter and shoulder-season tourism. The average room occupancy in Banff was 71.7 per cent in 2018, a gain of 100,000 room nights from just three years prior. Hotel occupancy in November exceeded 50 per cent for the first time, reported the Outlook.

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