Below average wildfire risk predicted for Summit County, but preparation still urged
Aside from being Star Wars day, May 4 is also the sixth annual Wildfire Community Preparedness Day. The national awareness event, started by the National Fire Protection Association, is focused on helping residents and communities prepare for and work together to reduce wildfire risk.
In Colorado, 2.9 million of the state’s 5.7 million residents live in the wildland-urban interface, areas where human communities meet the wilderness. That puts a lot of people potentially in harm’s way with little to defend their homes from a wildfire — aside from preparation.
“Every homeowner should be aware of their wildfire risk and the associated responsibility to reduce that risk, not only to protect their property, but also to improve the safety of first responders,” said Dan Beveridge, CSFS wildfire mitigation specialist. “There are numerous examples from the 2018 fire season and seasons past showing that proactive wildfire mitigation efforts are effective. Taking risk-reduction actions can also improve insurability and support community adaptation to wildfire.”
Summit County was one of those examples last year, when a wildfire rolled down Buffalo Mountain and came close to destroying homes in the Mesa Cortina neighborhood. Luckily, a rapid and overwhelming air response and wildfire mitigation work done by the U.S. Forest Service prevented the situation from becoming catastrophic.
Additionally, the county has been at the forefront of aggressive wildfire mitigation efforts, with public education and participation a key component in keeping residents safe.
Summit Fire & EMS spokesman Steve Lipsher has a number of tips for Summit residents to start their wildfire preparation in conjunction with their spring chores, even if there is still snow on the ground.
“It’s never too early to prepare for wildfires,” he said.
Clear visible vegetation close to structures
Mud season means soggy yards with snowy patches, so Lipsher doesn’t expect anybody to be deploying their rakes quite yet. However, he does advise that homeowners look over their yards for any aspen starting to sprout up.
“Those aspen add to vegetation density, and it’s a good idea to cut them down before you get attached to them,” Lipsher said.
Move firewood away from homes and decks
Firewood is a very potent and common homewrecking hazard when improperly stored. Many homeowners move firewood on or under their decks during the winter, and aside from inviting pests, it is a red carpet inviting wildfire. Firewood should be stored at least 30 feet away from structures, preferably on a concrete pad or other elevated fire-safe surface.
Take an inventory of valuables, with photos
Furnishings, artwork, collectibles, electronics, appliances — anything of value, note it on a list with its approximate dollar value. Wildfires can leave a home unrecognizable, and the photos may be critical to insurance recovery.
Store copies of documents off-site
While doing an inventory of valuables, it’s also a good idea to make copies of Social Security cards, birth certificates, irreplaceable family photos, wills — anything that can’t be replaced, or at least easily. Store them somewhere outside of the home or in the cloud.
Know thy insurance agent
Get in touch with your insurance agent to help assess and document the value of your home and valuables to best prepare for the worst-case scenario of total home loss.
Create evacuation kits
Lipsher always advises that residents have evacuation kits at the ready in the event of an emergency — a bug-out bag at home, as well as one in the car. The kit(s) should include the essentials needed for a two- or three-day trip away from home. Lipsher advises that the kit should include a change of clothes, toiletries, daily medications for yourself (and pet, if necessary), a cellphone charger, cash, pet food, and, crucially, a contact card.
Create written or printed contact cards
Lipsher has found that many people have come to rely on their cellphones and cloud storage for contact lists. However, in the event of a major disaster, there may be no electricity or internet available. An important part of any evacuation kit is a contact list written or printed on paper. The list should include contacts for relatives, your insurance agent and a person everyone in your family would know to contact in the event they need updates on how and where you are.
Register for SC Alert
Summit County’s office of emergency management uses a centralized public information system, SC Alert, as its primary method to notify residents of emergencies and evacuations. The alert system requires registration in advance, and will send emergency, community and construction notifications by email, phone and/or text depending on preference. To register, visit SCAlert.org.
The 30-to-90-day wildfire outlook published by the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center forecasts a below-average to average wildfire season through August, with spring expected to have average or above-average precipitation.
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