Moderate fire danger in the high country enable local departments to lend a hand with Black Forest Fire
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — With only a moderate potential for wildfires in Summit County, local firefighters have been sent to the Front Range to help fight the destructive Black Forest Fire. The assignment could last as long as two weeks, according to a press release from Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue.
The fire northeast of Colorado Springs has already destroyed about 80 to 100 homes and forced the evacuation of several thousand residents, and more homes are still at risk.
In Summit County, fire experts say wildfires are unlikely right now following a wet spring. The potential for fires is expected to creep up the next few weeks and could reach a critical level by late June, according to LDFR deputy chief Jeff Berino.
The only areas where fuels have dried out to a flammable level are at lower elevations in the Lower Blue Valley, where sage scrublands could be at risk in an errant lightning strike.
Overall, Berino said local firefighters are expecting an average season this summer, with heightened concerns about wildfires in late June and early July, especially in the early part of the monsoon season, when thunderstorms sometimes deliver lightning without rain.
For now, it looks like the southwestern monsoon is setting up normally, which means Summit County can expect afternoon rainstorms starting about mid-July through mid-August, the heart of the monsoon season.
Depending on weather, a secondary high country fire season can develop in September and October, when vegetation once again dries out during some of the driest months of the year.
Summit County firefighters can gain experience when they’re assigned to other fires in the state.
“The crew returns with knowledge and skill that can be used in Summit County during a wildfire. Our commitment to the community is to ensure we have adequate resources available locally prior to sending resources on these deployments,” said Red, White & Blue Fire Deputy Chief Jay Nelson.
The costs of firefighter pay and equipment typically are covered by the state and federal government through standard contracting agreements.
Copper Mountain sent Lt. Tim Schlough, firefighter/paramedic Russ Orton and engineer Mark Neilson in a Type VI four-wheel-drive engine. Lake Dillon sent engine boss Dennis Jackson and wildland firefighters Frank Towers and Aaron Ferdig in a Type III four-wheel-drive wildland engine. And Red, White & Blue sent Capt. Keith McMillan, Driver/Operator Tim Caldwell and Firefighter/Paramedic Terrance Campbell in a Type VI four-wheel.-drive engine.
“With our high temperatures, low humidity and winds, our fuels are rapidly drying out, so we need to be vigilant,” said Dan Moroz, the public-information officer with Copper Mountain Fire. “It’s time to get on those fire-mitigation projects you’ve been putting off.”
Local fire officials are encouraging Summit County residents to put together an emergency evacuation kit to keep in their vehicles that includes clothing, toiletries — including daily medications — and non-perishable food and water for three days. It is a good idea to have copies of important documents, as well, and make sure that your property insurance is up to date and adequate.
“We can’t stress enough the importance of having a plan in case we have a fast-moving wildfire like those we’ve seen recently throughout the state,” Parmley said. “Talk with your family about how to get in touch and reunited with each other in case of an evacuation. Keep copies of irreplaceable photographs and vital documents on the internet cloud or on discs in safe-deposit boxes. And build defensible space of little vegetation around your home to lessen the likelihood of it being lost in a wildfire.”
For more information or to have a courtesy review of your fire plan and defensible space, please call your local fire department.