Summit County: ‘It’s not if we’re going to have a fire, but when’ |

Summit County: ‘It’s not if we’re going to have a fire, but when’

Jessica Smith
summit daily news

The Forest Health Task Force kicked off its Homeowners Series at Wednesday night’s meeting in Frisco. Nearly 30 Summit County residents were in attendance, listening to a presentation and asking questions regarding emergency preparedness during a wildfire.

The purpose behind the Homeowners Series is informing the public on the importance and best methods of safety preparedness in the event of a wildfire crisis. The mission of the task force includes organization and participation in forest management, monitoring conditions and promoting funding for forest management, in addition to its goals of public education and awareness.

The key word at Wednesday’s meeting was preparedness. Summit County emergency management director Joel Cochran discussed the importance of homeowners and landowners being prepared in case of an emergency.

“I think one of our big challenges in this county is to talk about how we understand risk,” Cochran said.

Though people may not want to think about it, risk of danger from a wildfire can quickly become a reality, Cochran said, and this summer looks to have a high probability for potential wildfire danger. While 2012 was one of the driest years on record nationwide, projections show that 2013 may be even worse. Additionally, the natural recurrence pattern in lodgepole pines in regard to fire is every 150 years. According to nature, Summit is due for a fire.

“We need to get ready. It’s not if we’re going to have a fire, it’s when,” said Brad Piehl, a task force member present at the meeting.

Cochran’s focus was on understanding the risks involved in a wildfire situation and being prepared to do what’s necessary to keep property, possessions and, above all else, lives, safe.

He discussed evacuation procedures and the need to have supplies ready and quickly available in case homeowners need to leave quickly. Things like important papers, prescriptions, food and clothing are particularly important. Staying informed, Cochran said, will help homeowners know what is going on. Systems like SCAlert, which sends text message updates, help keep the public informed.

Lesley Hall, director of Summit County Animal Control and Shelter, presented information about keeping pets and livestock safe during a wildfire. Just like humans, pets need a bag of essential items like food and leashes, ready to go on short notice. Livestock, in particular, requires great care in preparation.

The Summit County Animal Response team currently has 48 volunteers, who are prepared to assist in pet rescue and relocation in the case of a wildfire emergency. If owners are unable to reach their home where their pets reside, the rescue team will attempt to retrieve them. Being prepared will greatly help in those efforts, Hall said.

“I think it’s great they’re doing this,” said Amy Mastin, Lower Blue planning commissioner and resident, of the informative meeting.

Howard Hall, president of the task force, said there’s a lot to do, but the series is a good step forward in teaching the importance of preparedness.

“We hope to build on this, I think it’s such an important topic,” he said. “We’re emphasizing during this entire series it’s about people making decisions themselves.”

The Homeowners Series will continue, with one presentation and discussion each month. The next takes place March 20 to discuss defensible space with Dan Schroder of Colorado State University Natural Resources and the Summit County Wildfire Council. April will focus on understanding wildfire risk and behavior, while May will focus on homeowners, property managers, planners and homebuilders. For more information, visit the task force website at

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