Boulder Company Filling Niche For Tracking Fires

Boulder Company Filling Niche For TrackingFires
Anchor Point Group Part Of Emerging ‘WildfireIndustry’

14 April 2005

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BOULDER, Colo.Using detailed satellite imagery, the Anchor Point Group can assess wildfire risk down to the type of roof on a mountain house or the variety of grass nearby.

The six-year-old Boulder company, while small, is one of the few for-profit entities poised to take advantage of millions of dollars available to assist communities in defining fire risk and preventing catastrophic loss.

“A wildfire industry is starting to be born,” said Anchor Point’s new business development director, Jim Moscou.

Media mogul Ted Turner hired Anchor Point to protect one of his New Mexico ranches. And the government has entrusted the company with millions of dollars through federal grants.

Coloradans will not soon forget the hot, dry summer of 2002, when the largest wildfire in Colorado history, the Hayman Fire, ravaged 138,000 acres in the Pike National Forest. The fire destroyed about 300 buildings and caused $29 million in property damage. Total costs rose to more than $208 million.

The fire, and others that summer, highlight the need for the services Anchor Point provides, company executives say.

Anchor Point helps communities and agencies develop plans to prevent catastrophic losses. The company also manages prescribed burns and provides education and training. Customers include forest and fire management services for public land management agencies, governments, ranches, homeowner associations, developers, land trusts and fire departments.

The company is led by two well-known wildfire professionals from Boulder: Christopher White and Rodrigo Moraga, both 39.

About 65 percent of its work is in Colorado, with the bulk in Jefferson and Boulder counties. However, interest in Anchor Point has cropped up in Spain, Canada and China.

Although Moscou would not reveal exact numbers, he predicts the company will have annual sales this year “in the seven figures” with sales jumping “well into the eight figures” within five years. He predicts 500 percent growth this year over last. The company has five employees but expects 20 within a year and 60 or 70 by 2009.

“We’re heading to become the leader of this industry,” Moscou said.

A partnership agreement Colorado Springs-based Sanborn Map Co. announced last month is expected to bolster Anchor Point’s high-tech wildfire risk assessment methods.

Sanborn has agreed to provide highly detailed aerial photographs. Sanborn owns technology that can detect the heights and characteristics of trees. Potential hazards such as gas wells can be spotted and areas of risk pinpointed. Data analysis can reveal how fast a fire would spread and in what directions.

In addition, the company is able to train satellites to detect 13 fuel types for Anchor Point. The process combines the use of high- and medium-resolution imagery from IKONOS and Landsat with Geographic Information System techniques.

James Schriever, senior vice president of solutions for Sanborn, described Anchor Point as the Cadillac of wildfire planning.

“These guys really understand how to create community wildfire protection plans,” Schriever said. “In order to get funding through the (federal) Healthy Forests Initiative, you have to have one of these plans in place.”

Anchor Point also recently announced a contract with the International Association of Fire Chiefs to be its in-house wildfire adviser and expert.

The company was named after the fire suppression term anchor point, which describes the place where all fire suppression activities should begin.

The company also compiles plans for fire departments that give detailed information on water sources, roadways, fuel types and homes. Single-page risk reports are provided to homeowners.

The 2003 Healthy Forest Restoration Act requires that the 23,000 communities at risk of burning create wildfire protection plans.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” White said. “They’re finally getting it in Congress.”

White argues that private businesses can tackle fire plans more efficiently than local governments.

“Our level of expertise is unparalleled under one roof,” White says. “(A public agency) may have experts, but they all have multiple projects, they work different shifts. These plans can take anywhere from one year to 10 years.”

Anchor Point did a wildfire mitigation plan for the 275-square-mile Platte Canyon Fire Protection District, just north of the Hayman Fire boundary, about a year ago. Anchor Point also provided individual assessments to the area’s more than 4,000 homeowners.

“It would have taken us six months to do it,” said John Pawlik, Platte Canyon’s wildland mitigation specialist. “They got 80 percent done in three weeks.”

While hazard and risk assessments remain the company’s bread and butter, Moscou describes Anchor Point as a one-stop shop for all things fire-related, from prevention plans and attack plans to the hiring of people to do prescribed burns. Company leaders say the firm is unique because of its ecological emphasis.

“That’s why we’ve been successful,” White says. “Because of the blending of hard-core science with ecological sensitivity.”

White and Moraga followed similar paths without knowing it. They attended rival high schools in New Jersey and worked at Swartzwood State Park as college students. White got hooked into the world of forest fires while working as a seasonal firefighter in Dillon.

In 1989, Moraga began working as a forest technician for Boulder’s open space department. By 1999, he was the city’s prescribed-burn manager.

White was hired to be the state’s first county-level wildfire coordinator for Summit County in the early 1990s. When the same job opened in Boulder County in 1994, he jumped on it. Moraga and White met on a burn run, an event White calls “serendipitous.” They started the company in 1999, quitting their day jobs four years later.

In addition to running the business, both still fight fires. Moraga, a native of Chile, is a volunteer firefighter for Four Mile Canyon as well as one of 100 fire-behavior analysts nationwide who serve on Type II fire teams.

White is a volunteer firefighter and serves as a backup structure protection specialist on Type I and II teams.



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