‘Ready for the next one:’ CMC hosts virtual lecture to help individuals locally and across the country better prepare for wildfire season
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Kale Casey is more than familiar with wildfires — how they start, the damage they can wreak and ways to prepare for them. In a virtual discussion hosted by Colorado Mountain College, Casey presented on his past 14 years of experience in fighting wildfires and engaged viewers from Kansas City to the Western Slope by answering questions on best practices to establish year-round, not just for fire seasons.
“When you spend that much time out there with the crews, you really start to internalize what they go through, what this challenging lifestyle really is. The aches, the pain, the loneliness. Missing weddings, missing birthdays … but you really do realize that these folks year-in and year-out are heroes,” Casey said.
The beginning of his presentation included recaps from the Grizzly Creek Fire that took place during the summer of 2020. The fire started Aug. 10 with a spark on the median of Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon. The interstate was closed for two weeks, and the fire jumped the Colorado River and ended up burning 32,631 acres before becoming fully contained Dec. 18. He had photos to share from the camps his team had set up when fighting the fires that threatened the watershed in Glenwood Springs and affected traveling on I-70. Something he said that boosts firefighters’ spirits is seeing residents of the area they’re protecting put up signs of gratitude or interact with social media posts about the work that’s being done.
“We really appreciated that this community of Glenwood Springs and the greater fire community is becoming more engaged about that,” Casey said. “The pieces of equipment we use, our tactics, how we operate, and when the firefighters see the engagement it actually gives them a lift, too, because sometimes they feel forgotten up there on the fire line.”
Casey encouraged taking the steps needed to make one’s home fire defensible and drove the point home that communities need to stop using “I didn’t know this would burn” as an excuse, and instead do the necessary work to be ready when a fire inevitably arrives.
“That’s what firefighters want to see,” Casey said. “… They want to see that you have done something to create the defensible space. They want to see that you’ve taken (those) favorite 10 trees that you’ve loved and told stories about and your kids were raised under in the shade … and you’ve cut them down to create defensible space.”
Part of the decision behind where firefighters decide to put up their rigs comes from the consideration of how safe they’ll be in that area, as well. Reducing hazardous fuel build-up surrounding a property is one way to further protect one’s home, since when the teams come in, those will be elements outside of their control. Casey also mentioned the connection between climate change and wildfire season, how temperatures are getting warmer earlier and for longer. All these factors set the stage for the perfect burn.
“Colorado last summer, look at us. I was up in Pingree filming a crew in the snow who was doing hot spots and cutting a fire line Nov. 21-22 because we were worried that we were going to have another Fern Lake, Estes National Park fire like we had in December of 2010,” Casey said.
Thinking about all the steps to take before the time comes helps with peace of mind and successful evacuation. Casey said to consider the six P’s if you are in a situation where you need to leave immediately, have a plan in place and look out for others who are also trying to stay safe during the fires.
“Because our town of Willow has burned down twice, we have a very strong VOAD, Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster, and this last fire as soon as the houses started burning … we were so much more prepared to be resilient … and everything else because we had been through it once, and everybody made sure they were ready for the next one.”
For more questions about wildfire safety and preparedness, Kale Casey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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