SUMMIT COUNTY - With a large portion of Summit County's lodgepole pines dead or dying, fire expert Ross Wilmore said it's only a matter of time before the community sees a large wildfire. And to limit damage to the county, residents and property owners should educate themselves on fire safety, reduce fuels by removing trees and come up with an evacuation plan just in case.
Wilmore, who's in charge of wildfire-fighting operations for the U.S. Forest Service in Colorado, visited a recent Frisco Town Council meeting to discuss forest-fire education and preparation tips. There he said Summit County is nearing prime wildfire conditions with an already warmer-than-average summer season and trees falling at a faster-than-expected rate. Summit County's core fire season normally lasts from August to October.
"Vegetation is greening a little ahead of schedule," he said. "We may dry out sooner. That may put us into fire season sooner."
According to Red, White and Blue Fire District spokeswoman Kim Scott, the sun is hitting the ground for the first time in decades where lodgepoles have died and fallen. This means new grass is growing underneath infected trees, making a potent fuel source for a catastrophic wildfire.
Though Wilmore doesn't think Summit County is facing a "doomsday scenario," a large fire is definitely possible this season, so everyone needs to do their part.
"We're re-certifying firefighters for wildland certifications," Scott said. "And we're working actively with residents and private homeowners in the Breck area to do fire mitigation inspections. We're also attending homeowner's association meetings to talk about forest health and wildfire mitigation."
Wilmore noted that fuel breaks are also being constructed around at-risk areas in the community, and towns and the county are removing trees on public land.
"The entire fire emergency services community here have been preparing," he said. "People can really help us with by doing work around their houses."
From simply cleaning up your yard to coming up with an evacuation plan, locals have plenty to do to both prevent and make it through a large wildfire.
"I'd encourage that people clear pine needles off roofs and gutters, and have adequate spacing between trees near a home," Scott said. "Make sure a house can sustain on its own in case of a wildfire by making sure that trees aren't continuous from the forest to the house."
While Scott and Wilmore stressed there are emergency plans in place if areas of Summit County need to be evacuated, they also suggested coming up with personal evacuation plans, including picking a meeting spot for families. Two websites, www.firewise.org and www.ready.gov, are good resources for coming up with emergency plans.
"It's helpful if people would prepare just in case we need to evacuate certain areas in the county," Wilmore said. "We're not going to evacuate people unless it's really necessary. Folks will need to take that seriously."
Scott also said parents should educate their children about the dangers of playing with fire. Matches, lighters, fireworks, etc. should be kept locked away as well.