Jim Candelaria: Fighting Forest Fires

Jim Candelaria helps protect the mountains of southwest Colorado from the forest fires that sometimes sweep through the area during dry summers.

July 31, 2003


Jim Candelaria's weeks of fighting forest fires last summer, along with years of active service to his local home builders association, led the Colorado Association of Home Builders to name him its Builder of the Year in 2002. He started as a volunteer firefighter in 1981.

Jim Candelaria of Candelaria Construction in Cortez, Colo., builds custom homes in the mountains of southwest Colorado. In his off hours, he protects them from the forest fires that sometimes sweep through the area during dry summers.

As a member of the Farmington, N.M., fire department, Candelaria alternated last summer between huge fires outside Durango, Colo., and one in Mesa Verde National Park. During breaks in the action, he drove back to job sites to keep home building operations moving along.

The Mesa Verde fire was perhaps the most memorable, he says, because of the firefighters' success in protecting National Park Service buildings.

"If you look at a picture of the area from above, the buildings and the land immediately around them are the only spots of green left," Candelaria says. "The rest is charred."

Contrary to the images of heroic smoke jumpers dropping into the middle of the action, fighting forest fires requires mostly preparation and hard work, Candelaria says. At Mesa Verde, firefighters coordinated their efforts with park rangers to construct large sprinkler systems around building areas. The plan worked perfectly.

So far, this firefighting season has been less eventful, but smaller fires could flare into something bigger. Candelaria says he will be ready to assist.

"People call us when they need help, and it's a very good feeling to help."


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