Clearing defensible space and making emergency plans pays off in the worst-case scenario, fire chiefs say
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — A Pair of fast-moving fires on the Front Range — including the destructive Fourmile Canyon blaze — has prompted local fire officials to renew warnings to local residents about fire risks in the high country. Taking steps now to protect homes and properties can pay off in the worst-case scenario, they said.
“As we’ve seen in past wildfires, one of the main determinants in whether a home survives is what it is made of and whether there is adequate ‘defensible space’ for firefighters to intervene,” said Chief Dave Parmley of Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue.
To create defendable space around the home, property owners should reduce fuels in a zone at least 30 feet away from their homes. This can be accomplished by creating 10- to 15-foot spacing between clumps of trees, removing limbs from trees to 10 feet off the ground and trimming grasses to four inches high. Fuels – including all dead limbs, trees and other vegetation – should thinned throughout the rest of the property.
Property owners also should display their street addresses visibly and choose fire-resistant roofing and decks to reduce the threat of hot embers sparking fires. “By some of the photos from Boulder, it would appear this was the case, with some of the homes lost that were not even surrounded in a densely forested area,” Parmley said.
Aerial images from The Denver Post of homes lost and saved in the Four-mile Canyon fire west of Boulder can be seen at http://photos.denverpost.com/mediacenter/2010/09/aerial-photos-of-houses-in-the-burn-zone/
“Like firefighters, residents are encouraged to remain diligent about safety and preparedness this time of year,” said Chief Gary Green of Red, White and Blue Fire. “Dry fuels and high winds continue to pose wildfire concerns well into the fall.”
Summit County Emergency Manager Joel Cochran advises residents to be prepared to evacuate on a moment’s notice and to have plans for reuniting with family members afterwards.
“The fires on the Front Range have moved with incredible speed, and we heard accounts of people getting out with just the clothing on their back,” Cochran said. “Everyone should think now: What would I grab from my home if I had only 15 minutes to get out? Having irreplaceable items like critical documents, photo albums and computer drives in one place and available will simplify things in a crisis.”
Cochran also suggests that homeowners check that they have the appropriate level of property insurance – enough to cover the full loss of their structures and contents.
Dan Schroder with the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension program suggested packing emergency kit with extra food, clothing, necessary medicine and water for at least three days that mountain residents should keep in the car or the office. Often-overlooked items include food for pets, activity books for young children and even a little candy to lift the spirits of those displaced in a crisis.
“Being evacuated is incredibly stressful,” Schroder said, “but being prepared through some simple planning certainly can ease the anxiety and heartache everyone feels.”
For more information on wildfire preparedness steps you can take, please contact your local fire station or visit the following web sites:
“We don’t want to see these kinds of destructive fires in Summit County,” Parmley said, “and we’re going to do our best to get the word out that there are steps we can all take to minimize the risks of these types of catastrophes.”