Neighborhood wildfire drills help prepare county | SummitDaily.com
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Neighborhood wildfire drills help prepare county

NICOLE FORMOSAsummit daily news
Summit Daily/Kristin Skvorc
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SUMMIT COUNTY – Firefighters in wildland fire garb rushed around Royal Red Bird Drive in Mesa Cortina Wednesday morning, knocking on doors and lugging fire hoses to the outer edges of homes nestled against National Forest land.As imaginary flames approached the neighborhood off of Royal Buffalo Drive above Silverthorne, the mood intensified. Firefighters reacted quickly to commands blaring over their radios. A sheriff’s deputy marked homes with color-coded tape that, in a real emergency, would tell firefighters who had evacuated their home and who was still inside. And for those structures likely not to be saved from the fire, strips of black plastic hung from trees signifying a lack of defensible space around the homes.Although Wednesday’s scene was only a drill organized by the county’s Incident Management Team, emergency personnel treated it as though they were about to be in the thick of an actual blaze.”For me, the best part is the repetition of doing the work because when the fire does happen, you want to be able to move fast and get it done,” said Red, White and Blue firefighter Tim Caldwell, while taking a break from the mock evacuation.About two hours into the exercise, a second simulated fire broke out across the valley in the Ptarmigan neighborhood. “It’s not out of this realm that this would be a real scenario,” said Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue public information officer Rachel Hanson.Both Mesa Cortina and Ptarmigan are considered high risk areas for wildfires in the Community Wildfire Protection Plan because of limited access in and out of the subdivisions, and the number of structures near Forest Service land, some of which are laden with trees killed by the mountain pine beetle.Dawn Mlatecek, who’s lived on Royal Red Bird Drive for six years, watched the fire trucks line up along the gravel road from her front yard as she stocked her RV for the summer.

About two hours into the exercise, a second simulated fire broke out across the valley in the Ptarmigan neighborhood. “It’s not out of this realm that this would be a real scenario,” said Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue public information officer Rachel Hanson.Both Mesa Cortina and Ptarmigan are considered high risk areas for wildfires in the Community Wildfire Protection Plan because of limited access in and out of the subdivisions, and the number of structures near Forest Service land, some of which are laden with trees killed by the mountain pine beetle.Dawn Mlatecek, who’s lived on Royal Red Bird Drive for six years, watched the fire trucks line up along the gravel road from her front yard as she stocked her RV for the summer.

Even though firefighters placed a black flag outside her home in the drill, she said the privacy and views she enjoys from her home at the base of Buffalo Mountain are a trade-off for the higher fire danger.”We choose to live here. We know the risks we’re taking up here; we just hope (a wildfire) doesn’t happen,” Mlatecek said, adding that her biggest concern is the number of dead pine beetle trees in the National Forest land across the road from her home.Mlatecek regularly trims the grass surrounding her house to help create a buffer in case of a fire, and makes sure she’s prepared for the worst.”I’m ready. I have a list of things I need to get out of here when I need to go,” she said.

By the end of the four-hour drill, 188 acres had burned, including 10 homes in the Mesa Cortina area, and the town of Silverthorne had declared a state of emergency, evacuating the elementary school, Hanson said.”Had this been a real situation, I-70 may have even been closed; that way they could fly over the area with air support,” she said.Wednesday’s exercise was the first full-scale drill organized by the county’s Incident Management Team, which includes personnel from local towns, fire districts, police departments and county government.About 20 agencies and 75 people participated in the exercise, which went well and showed that the county is prepared for a wildfire emergency, said county emergency manager sheriff’s Sgt. Jonathan Comyn.

“I think Ophir Mountain really showed our community and us as first responders that it’s a real threat that we will face, and it’s a good opportunity for us – the beginning of June, end of May – to get everybody together start thinking about the summer,” Comyn said.Nicole Formosa can be reached at (970) 668-4629, or at nformosa@summitdaily.com.


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