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Fire mitigation practices protect homes

SUMMIT COUNTY – The rivers are raging, the lake is filling and water commissioner Scott Hummer is smiling – but fire danger in the High Country is still very much a reality.

Fire experts and politicians alike- from County Fire Mitigation Officer Patti Maguire to Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo. – have spent the past year developing plans and legislation to help avoid the catastrophic wildfires that plagued Colorado last summer.

Summit County got off easy last summer, with several small wildfires, which lumbering slurry bombers easily doused. But Summit County’s vast expanses of forest – primarily lodgepole pine – are dense, old and ripe for fire.



The U.S. Forest Service and Maguire have spent the past year working with numerous homeowners throughout the county to reduce the potential of devastating wildfire losses in the so-called wildland-urban interface, or red zone. The red zone is defined as those areas where homes and water supplies abut the forest.

The importance of fire mitigation was driven home to many during the infamous fire in Oakland, Calif. in 1991. Fed by wind, heat and ample fuel, the Oakland fire spread rapidly, consuming over 3,000 structures. Once firefighters extinguished the fires and evaluated the damage, they noted that one house remained standing. The owner had replaced his wooden shingle roof with fire resistant shingles and planted trees and shrubs far from the house, among many other things.



Fire mitigation won’t eliminate the chances of a fire burning down a house, but it will reduce the odds, Maguire said.

There are numerous things homeowners can do to reduce those odds. The first step is to create a defensible space around your home. If firefighters cannot access a home because of dense brush or tree stands, the likelihood that they will stick around to protect it diminishes.

Around the house

– Thin trees on your property so that their branches are 10 feet away from the branches of neighboring trees. This reduces the chances of a fire spreading through the tops of trees – a crown fire – which is far more difficult to fight than a fire on the ground. It is best to thin trees at least 30 feet around the home, but those parameters change for homes on steep slopes, on ridgelines or above dense brush. There are numerous tree specialists who can assist in densely wooded areas.

– Trim remaining tree branches up to three or four feet from the ground. Cutting these branches – called ladder fuels – prevents fire from climbing into trees.

– Keep grasses near the home trimmed. If possible, water them, as greenbelts don’t burn as fast or hot as dried grasses. However, remember that Summit County is still in a drought.

– Clean rooftops and rain gutters of leaves, pine needles and other debris.

– Keep woodpiles at least 30 feet away, and uphill, from the house. Do not store wood under decks or outdoor stairs.

– Don’t store combustibles – lawn mower gasoline, paint and other chemicals – on the deck or in outbuildings adjacent to the home.

– Replace wood shingles with those that are fire resistant.

– Encourage neighbors to do the same. If their homes go up in flames because they failed to address a few safety precautions, it puts the nearby forest and homes in danger.

– Trim branches that hang over the roof or eaves of the house.

The house

– Plan and practice home fire escape drills.

– Know where fire-safe areas are in your neighborhood: meadows, rock outcrops and wide roads. Know all escape routes.

– Inspect and clean your chimney at least once a year.

– Equip your home with smoke detectors and fire extinguishers.

– Install spark arrestors on your chimney, lawn mower, chainsaws and other equipment.

– Post your house number clearly on the house or by the road. Firefighters who can’t find your address will be able to find your home when they see flames rising above the trees – and then it’s too late. Likewise, make sure your driveway is wide enough so emergency vehicles can access the house.

– Store tools – axes, hoses, shovels, hoes and rakes – in an easily accessible place to combat small spot fires.

– Fill a trash barrel with water.

For more information about fire mitigation, contact Patti Maguire at (970) 513-4237.

Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or jstebbins@summitdaily.com.


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