It’s too early to know the cause of the Black Forest fire, and what, if anything, might have been done differently to prevent the loss of about 500 homes and at least two lives. What we do know is that weather conditions generally throughout Colorado were exceptionally hot and dry. Elevated temperatures and dry vegetation are prescriptions for wildfire. The day the Black Forest fire started there were, according to weather reports, record high temperatures at multiple locations east of the Front Range. What we should also understand is that ground level temperatures, particularly in the direct sunlight, can be considerably higher than what’s reported by the weather services.
We’ve heard reports that some Black Forest residents had as little as five minutes to grab what they could and get out under mandatory evacuation orders. This mirrors what our local firefighters and emergency preparedness professionals have been telling us for years. If the time comes, be ready to leave immediately. In Summit County we have been both fortunate and smart. In the past our higher elevation with cooler temperatures has reduced the threat of large-scale wildfire. According to many wildfire experts this may not be the case going forward.
We’ve been proactive. Under the Summit County Community Wildfire Protection Plan trees have been removed from many critical locations in the wildland-urban interface to reduce wildfire danger to homes and infrastructure. There has been good collaboration between the federal and state forest services, county officials and local leaders to maximize our efforts. We have well-thought through evacuation procedures. Many homeowners have established defensible space around their homes and reduced combustible materials. Yet, despite all our hard work and good intentions we may be increasingly at risk of a major wildfire event.
We urge you as Summit County homeowners, renters, and business owners to be prepared for wildfire. Inspect your defensible space and consult your fire district to identify changes you can make to help protect your family and your property. Make sure your important records are safe, that your valuables are well documented; and that your homeowners, renters, business and auto insurance policies are adequate in case of wildfire.
We continue to remind ourselves, wildfire is not just another news event or a policy issue; it’s about real people and their devastating losses. If you think you can help, one good starting point is www.helpcoloradonow.org.
What we can and must learn from the wildfire tragedies that have plagued our state for several decades now is that we in Summit County are not immune. Wildfire season is no longer business as usual.
Howard Hallman and Brad Piehl are members of the Summit County Forest Health Task Force. As part of an ongoing homeowners’ wildfire series, the Forest Health Task Force will be holding a meeting this Wednesday evening from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Frisco Community Center, Third and Granite. The topic is adequate insurance coverage in case of wildfire. The event is free and open to the public. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org, call (719) 491-1807 or visit the website www.foresthealthtaskforce.org for more information.