Colorado’s Crystal Wildfire survivor briefs Summit County homeowners |

Colorado’s Crystal Wildfire survivor briefs Summit County homeowners

Breeana Laughlin
Submitted photo

Homeowners are the first responders to an emergency — not firefighters or police.

“Whether it’s a fire or medical emergency, the minutes you have between identifying the situation and fire or cops show up may be a matter of life and death,” said Forest Health Taskforce member Howard Hallman.

The more homeowners are prepared for an emergency, such as a wildfire, the more likely they will survive and rebuild their lives, he said.

Colorado resident and wildfire survivor Linda Masterson urged the audience at the final meeting of the homeowners wildfire series to prepare for the worst. She, like many Coloradans, realized that a local wildfire was a risk. But, like many residents, she also made excuses to put wildfire preparation off.

“Failing to do everything you can to reduce those risks is not brave — it’s just being reckless,” she said. “I hope you leave here tonight ready to do all those things you’ve putting off. It’s the things you didn’t do and could have done that (are) going to come back to haunt you.”

Masterson’s home was lost in the Crystal fire in Larimer County in April 2011. She described the fire as a hurricane of flames, and a 90 mph nightmare.

“A lifetime of memories was all wiped out in less time than I am talking to you tonight, she said at Wednesday’s meeting.

Linda and her husband, Cory, had about 15 minutes to call neighbors, get themselves out of their house and down a narrow, winding 2-mile road the night the fire consumed their home. By the time the Mastersons reached the main road, their home was already engulfed in flames.

Creating a defensible space around a home is just the beginning of fire preparedness, she said. “You need to make your life more defendable too.”

Having good insurance, documentation regarding your home and belongings and records of personal information are vital to your ability to rebuild your life after a fire, Masterson said.

“We would have had a lot more options had we been better insured,” she said.

Masterson encouraged Summit residents to document everything they have — down to the contents of the kitchen cupboards. She suggested people test themselves by standing in front of a closet or kitchen cabinet and making a list of everything that’s in it, then open the door and see how accurate the list is.

When thinking about what to take with you in the event of an emergency, don’t grab expensive things; grab the things you can’t live without — photographs, jewelry or family heirlooms, for instance.

“Make a list of things that would leave a hole in your heart should they be gone forever,” Masterson urged.

The better organized you are, the less likely you will be kicking yourself later. One of the wildfire survivor’s neighbors grabbed kitty litter to take with her and forgot her computer, Masterson said.

“Sometimes there’s no next time. No matter how calm, cool and collected you really are, it’s hard to think when a fireball is hurling toward you and there’s no time to get out,” she said.

Masterson turned the lessons she learned from the fire into a resource for others to use to prepare themselves.

Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue chief Dave Parmley touted her book, “Surviving Wildfire: Get Prepared, Stay Alive, Rebuild Your Life,” as one of the best compilations he’s seen on the subject.

“This is the kind of publication you really need to take to heart,” he said.

“This is good information and we’d do ourselves a service to push this throughout our community.”

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