Wildfire season is upon us: Are you prepared? | SummitDaily.com

Wildfire season is upon us: Are you prepared?

the Summit County Wildfire Council
Summit Daily/Mark Fox

Ready or not, wildfire season is upon us in Summit County, where a 16-acre blaze already threatened homes in Keystone earlier this month and the presence of hundreds of firefighters at a statewide wildfire academy last week reminded us that we live in the “red zone,” where fire is a constant threat.

Are you prepared? Have you taken steps to protect your home? What would you pack if you were forced to evacuate on short notice? How can you contribute to making your home and your community safer?

These are among the questions the Summit County Wildfire Council would like you to consider through a series of stories in the Summit Daily News over the next several weeks.

The Wildfire Council – comprised of public-lands managers, fire departments, county and town government officials, state forestry agents, neighborhood groups, local businesses and private citizens – advocates three key preparations:

> Protect your home by incorporating adequate “defensible space” clear of fire-promoting vegetation and flammable items, among other considerations;

> Have a plan you’ve discussed with your family determining where you would go and how you would reunite in case of an emergency;

> Prepare yourself for an evacuation with an emergency kit containing food, water, clothing, important documents, critical medications and toiletries and food and shelter for your pets as well as other items to help you cope with being displaced for three days or longer.

The lodgepole pine forests of Summit County are prone to fire as part of the regenerative process, but that natural cycle is complicated further by the millions of dead-standing trees killed in recent years by the pine beetle and development along the forest edge in the so-called “wildland-urban interface.”

“When the natural cycle of fire comes in contact with houses and property, it becomes a disaster,” Michele Steinberg, manager of the National Fire Protection Association’s Firewise Communities program, said this week in an NFPA presentation in Boston, as reported in http://www.Firehouse.com.

As long ago as 1961, a study of the 6,000-acre Bel Air-Brentwood fire that destroyed 500 homes in California revealed that homes that survived were made from non-combustible materials and had no vegetation around, Steinberg said, according to Firehouse.com.

Through the efforts of the U.S. Forest Service, county agencies and private property owners, many of those areas in Summit County along the forest boundaries have benefited from some wildfire mitigation – selective logging, for instance, and modern building codes that require fire-resistant construction.

Others, however, remain problematic: Innumerable Summit County homes are surrounded by tall trees and brush, driveways are too narrow for fire engines, homes are built with wood siding and shake shingles, and residents are unaware or unprepared for the speed at which wildfires can encroach and the devastation they can cause.

Wildfires already have torched more than 4.2 million acres of land across the United States in what could shape up to be a record year, and the Wildfire Council wants to ensure local residents are prepared if and when fire strikes by offering important information.

Future installments of this series will address:

> The status of the bark beetle as it chews its way across Summit County and how fire is a critical part of landscape ecology.

> The details of the Community Wildfire Protection Plan, which guides county officials in wildfire preparation and response.

> The local neighborhood projects that have won wildfire-mitigation grants.

> The keys to the things you can do in preparation for wildfire season, including building an evacuation kit and making plans with your family.

> Building defensible space around your home.

> Hazardous fuels reduction management.

For more information about this or any other topic, please visit the Summit County Wildfire Council webpage at http://www.co.summit.co.us/wildfiremitigation/

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