Emergency officials ask residents to prep for wildfire season
Are you ready?
Wildfire season is right around the corner, and as emergency officials with the county’s fire protection districts get ready for the season, there’s also plenty residents can do to prepare themselves, their families and their homes in case of emergency.
On Saturday morning representatives with the Red, White & Blue Fire Protection District hosted a workshop at the Colorado Mountain College campus in Breckenridge to walk residents through best practices for wildfire preparedness — diving into wide ranging topics from how to properly pack a go-kit, to how best to mitigate the property around your home.
“Now is the time to get ready,” said John Wiegand, a firefighter with RWB. “When these things happen it’s very emotional, and there’s a lot of fear. That’s no the time to be getting things ready. You’ve got the time now to get ready, and that’s what we’re trying to emphasize. It’s not a matter of if we’re going to have a big event, it’s when.”
The workshop began with a discussion on how best to make go-kits for yourself, your family and your pets in case of an evacuation. Amanda Seidler, a public information officer with the district, noted that kits should be personalized based on your specific situation, but that there’s some obvious items that make sense for everyone.
The district recommends keeping kits that will last through at least 72 hours of use packed into a plastic container or duffle bag. Seidler said that kits should include clothes — including things like hats and gloves to keep warm — along with nonperishable foods like raisins and granola bars, a headlamp or flashlight, power bank, spare phone charger, essential toiletries, a lighter or matches, and a gallon of water per person per day.
Along with the bare essentials, Seidler recommended keeping some cash on hand (enough for a few tanks of gas, meals and a night’s lodging) because ATMs won’t work in the event of a power outage, and a roll of quarters for laundry. Seidler said it’s important to keep vital information in your kit, including hard copies of necessary phone numbers like family members, doctors and insurance agents; and a week’s worth of any critical medications along with a copy of prescriptions.
Other kit ideas include a blanket, tarp, cooking kits and even small pieces of entertainment like playing cards or a book in case you find yourself waiting.
Additionally, it’s important to keep a kit ready for your pets, including a leash, food, treats, medication, travel bowls, an up-to-date photo of the animal and information like how to contact your vet and what type of food the animal eats in case someone else has to take care of them. It’s helpful to come up with a plan with a few different neighbors you can contact in case you’re not able to pick up your pet in an evacuation scenario, so that someone else can get to your pet or vice versa.
Perhaps the most vital thing you can do to protect your home from wildfires is perform mitigation efforts around the house.
Wiegand said that the most crucial area to mitigate is the 5 feet immediately surrounding your home, wherein all fuel sources should be diligently removed, including things like mulch, which should be replaced with noncombustible alternatives like rocks. It’s a good idea to trim back branches touching or overhanging the roof.
In the second zone, from 5 to about 30 feet removed from your home, Wiegand recommends keeping trees and other vegetation relatively scattered to break up continuous fuel sources. Low hanging branches on trees should be trimmed to prevent fires climbing to the top of trees — up to about a third the height of the tree, or at least 6 feet on big trees.
If possible, use only fire-wise plants and trees on your property, and take the time to rake up fuels like pine needles and leaves that could serve as carriers for ground fires.
Red, White & Blue and Summit Fire & EMS offer free mitigation inspections to provide recommendations for how homeowners can improve defensible space around their house.
“This is where homeowners can really help us,” said Wiegand. “We did several hundred mitigations last year, and we’re starting to ramp up again now. We want to get everyone on board so we’re working together.”
Information and Communication
Finally, it’s also important not to lose essential documents in a fire. Officials recommend photographing documents like birth certificates, insurance policies, passports and more, and keeping copies saved off-site or on a hard drive in your go-kit. They also recommended keeping crucial documents in a fireproof safe, or a safety deposit box.
For insurance purposes, it’s a good idea to walk around your home with a camera and record all of your possessions — including serial numbers of big-ticket items — as proof of ownership.
On top of protecting yourself and your belongings, communication is key in a disaster scenario. Officials recommend making sure you’re signed up for emergency alerts through Summit County Alert, and aware of helpful online resources like the county’s emergency blog, and the Facebook pages for emergency services.
“Every year these events are becoming more commonplace and more complex,” said Wiegand. “There are things that affect wildland fires like the fuels, the weather and topography. We can’t control the weather or the topography, but we can control the fuel. That’s where mitigation comes in. It’s essential that we get out ahead of these big events and prepare so we increase our chances of survivability.”
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