Fire and leaving town
SUMMIT COUNTY – Silverthorne Police Sgt. Mark Hanschmidt realizes a wildfire – and a subsequent evacuation of residents – in the Lower Blue Valley could create a bit of a mess on the interstate.
“This has been something I’ve thought about for years,” Hanschmidt said. “The worst is thinking about Wildernest and Mesa Cortina. You have fire equipment going up the hill trying to get there and frantic people coming down the hill to get out of there. We’re going to have a nightmare.”
If a fire were to take hold in the Gore Range – though every situation is different – county residents in Hamilton Creek, Mesa Cortina, Wildernest, Ptarmigan Mountain and Ruby Ranch all could have to drive through Silverthorne, quickly clogging roads.
But, Hanschmidt and the other officers at the Silverthorne Police Department are prepared.
According to Hanschmidt, if a major wildfire strikes in the north end of the valley, town police would implement traffic procedures used during the Fourth of July, when the thousands of revelers who packed the shores of the lake to watch fireworks leave en masse.
“We have a stream that comes off the interstate and down from the Dam Road that is just incredible,” he said. “But we can run that amount of traffic through in about 30 minutes. We get that practice on a yearly basis.”
Other areas, as with other fires, would require different evacuation scenarios. But the one common theme is that, in many places in Summit County, there are only two ways out.
Emergency officials, including police, sheriffs, 911 dispatchers and firefighters have been working feverishly this month to coordinate efforts with various jurisdictions and make plans in the event people need to be evacuated. They will meet Tuesday to conduct a “tabletop” session to brainstorm the logistics of evacuating people, many of whom may not want to leave or may be in a state of panic.
Sheriff Joe Morales said Wednesday he has spoken with officials in counties where fires have been raging to determine how they evacuated and sheltered displaced residents and how to set up roadblocks to keep people out of areas threatened by fire.
Locally, some plans already are in place; others are being developed. Officials in Summit, Eagle, Park, Chaffee, Park and Lake counties are working with the Regional Emergency and Trauma Advisory Council to develop disaster plans – an initiative that started with the bioterrorism events last fall.
Public service announcements on radio and TV would be among the first methods to alert people an evacuation is pending, said county Emergency Management Director Abbie Cobb. And though procedure varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, in many cases, law enforcement officers would drive through neighborhoods announcing plans on a public address system. Additionally, it is possible an information hotline could be set up to answer questions, Cobb said.
But there are many variables that prevent emergency responders from following every plan to the letter.
“Every fire’s different, every agency has different roads in and out,” Cobb said. “The logistics vary all over the county. It’s too broad to say, “Get in your car and drive this way or drive that way.'”
The Red Cross has a contract with the school district and the town of Silverthorne to provide shelter for displaced residents. Included are the Silverthorne rec center, the middle and high schools and Upper Blue and Silverthorne elementary schools.
But in some cases, people might have to leave the county.
“Everybody can’t get through the hole in the wall on I-70 at the same time,” said Silverthorne Councilmember Peggy Long. “You need to go back to what you learned in elementary school: Get your coat from the coat rack, get in single file and leave the building. Calmness is the key word here.”
Emergency responders are calm. But they’re also on alert.
“I’ve never seen conditions this bad,” said Cobb, who has been in emergency communications since 1983. “Every night I wonder what will happen the next day. It’s like Sept. 11; it’s disturbing to watch.”
Jane Stebbins can be reached at 668-3998 ext. 228 or email@example.com.
Preparing for Evacuation
– Follow instructions given by fire or law officials
– Listen to a local radio
station for evacuation orders
– Confine pets to one room until you are instructed to leave
– Arrange for temporary housing with a friend outside the threatened area
– Leave a note in your house saying where you can be reached
– Leave your front door unlocked
– Remove valuable
documents – house deeds,
identification, checkbooks, etc. – and items that
cannot be purchased again and pack them in your vehicle.
– Position your vehicle so it faces the street
– Make sure you have a full tank of gas – you don’t want to wait in line with those who don’t
– Wear protective clothing while evacuating. Wear a dry handkerchief over your nose and mouth if smokey conditions prevail
– Unless told otherwise, choose a route away from the fire. Watch for changes in wind speed and direction
– Do not jeopardize your life. No material item is worth it.
– Wear fire-resistant clothing and protective gear
– Place combustibles away from the home, including firewood, lighter fluids, lawnmower fuel, etc.
– Fill tubs and sinks with water; keep a trash can filled with water on the deck with rags to slap embers
– Close or cover outside vents and shutters.
– Close all windows and doors
– Shut off propane gas at the outside meter
– Remove light curtains from windows and place heavy, overstuffed furniture in the center of the room. Close heavy drapes
– Place a ladder, garden hose, rakes, hoes and
shovels near the house for firefighters
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