Fire safety emphasized as Summit County enters dry, breezy autumn
September 9, 2010
SUMMIT COUNTY – A shift toward drier, breezier weather has increased the local fire danger after a mild summer. And one resident recently learned the hard way just how quickly flames can spread.
Petr Mlatecek was burning a slash pile without a permit at a Peak 7 home last week when a tree caught fire and flames began reaching about 15 feet high.
After firefighters helped extinguish the blaze, sheriff’s deputies issued him court summonses on reckless endangerment and fourth-degree arson, according to a Summit County Sheriff’s Office report.
Mlatecek reportedly told deputies he had the flames under control with a hose despite strong winds. He also said it was raining when the fire began to spread, according to the report.
Red, White and Blue Fire District spokeswoman Kim Scott said such incidents are rare but not to be taken lightly.
“That gentleman really had (the fire) too close to his house,” she said.
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The out-of-control fire – about 150 feet from Mlatecek’s home and 100-200 yards from neighboring homes – created a “substantial risk of serious bodily injury” to neighbors, according to the sheriff’s report.
Both RWB Fire District and Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue offer free burn permits to people in eligible areas (generally outside of towns) aiming to eliminate slash piles. The permits include guidelines on how and when to safely burn tree slash.
Unlike other neighborhoods near Breckenridge, the Peak 7 area has certain issues making it tougher to spread information.
“They don’t have structured homeowner’s associations up there,” Scott said, adding that it’s easier to communicate needs for defensible space through an organization of residents.
Defensible firebreaks created by clearing brush and other vegetation around homes are one of the fire district’s top priorities toward protecting homes from wildfires. Scott also said there are efforts to get more firebreaks on U.S. Forest Service land surrounding the neighborhoods.
The Fourmile Canyon wildfire in Boulder County this week has burned more than 6,300 acres led to re-evacuations of residents on Thursday.
“That’s steep terrain and has a lot of the same qualities that we have up here,” Scott said.
In Summit County, a moist July and August kept the local fire danger down and caused foliage to prosper. But the seasonal shift in weather patterns could make for increased risks before the snow season.
“A good, green summer unfortunately also means a lot of fuel for a drier fall,” said LDFR spokesman Steve Lipsher.
The fire danger Thursday was “high,” and residents are encouraged to work on making their homes safe.
Lipsher said his district offers shovels, hand saws and goggles among equipment for groups such as HOAs to work together on creating firebreaks.
RWB Fire District is available at (970) 453-2474 and Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue is at (970) 262-5100.
SDN reporter Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or firstname.lastname@example.org.