Opinion | Tony Jones: Marshall Fire should be a wake-up call for all Colorado residents
Everything in Moderation
My wife and I used to own a cabin in an area with mountain views, trees and wildlife surrounding us and a local brewery only a five-minute walk away. We loved that old cabin and sometimes worried about the possibility of a wildfire destroying it. However, given that our location was also right at the edge of a small town with the fire department a few blocks away, that possibility seemed remote.
After a decade of having national forest in our backyard, we sold that cabin and bought a condo in Dillon. We’re now in a location that is much more urban with all the modern amenities minutes away and yet the grandeur of Tenderfoot Mountain and its sage-covered flanks right out our back door. Having left the dense pine forest behind, one might be tempted to believe that we also left the danger of wildfire behind.
But then comes the Marshall Fire in Boulder County in December 2021. We all know how wrong that fire was in so many ways, including the fact that it occurred in winter and that it consumed suburban homes in areas not usually considered fodder for wildfires. That fire should be a wake-up call for all Colorado residents. If previously you thought the danger of wildfire destroying your home and setting your life adrift applied only to those whose homes were in forests, it’s time to think again.
The Marshall Fire spread with frightening speed and seemed to effortlessly jump the Boulder Turnpike as it burned its way through neighborhoods on both sides of the highway. It’s easy to imagine that road being U.S. Highway 6 or Colorado Highway 9 or even Interstate 70, and before you know it, any of our beloved Summit County towns could become the next victim of a runaway wildfire.
And this brings me to the conclusion that no matter where you live in Colorado — mountains or plains, forests or grasslands — you’re living in the wildland urban interface, a location where human habitat encroaches on the wildlands. Homes in the wildland urban interface are known for the frequency of wildlife on their property and are often at the edges of or in forests. But the area can also include grassland locations like those around Superior and Marshall or even high mountain towns like those in Summit County, where moose and bears wander our neighborhoods. The wildland urban interface is an awesome location to live in, but it comes with its share of danger, whether that be forest fire or a mountain lion staring through your patio door.
The Marshall Fire demonstrates that as Coloradans, we all need to help with the prevention of wildfires while preparing for that possibility. We can spend a lot of time headed down the climate change rabbit hole on this, and we probably should at some point so that we can understand and plan for what the future holds for us. But regardless of your climate change views, our recent exceptionally dry summers are undeniable as is the danger that poses to all of us, including breathing in the smoky air that has become all too common every summer.
I’m not trying to go all Smokey Bear on you, but it’s important we educate ourselves on this topic so we can protect and prepare ourselves and our neighborhoods and be part of the fire-prevention solution.
That preparation may include creating a video inventory of your belongings, fireproofing your property, prepping a go-pack or having a list handy of the most important things to pack if an evacuation order is issued.
It also means changing behavior and putting butts in the ashtray instead of out the window, and understanding and accepting that campfires might be a thing of the past.
Be vigilant, keep your eyes open, and sign up for Summit County Alert for emergency notifications.
Being surrounded by mountains of snow, it might seem alarmist to be bringing this topic up now. Maybe so, but when you live in the wildland urban interface, a little planning goes a long way.
Tony Jones’ column “Everything in Moderation” publishes biweekly on Thursdays in the Summit Daily News. Jones is a veteran of the IT industry and has worked in the public and private sectors. He lives part time in Summit County and Denver. Contact him at email@example.com.
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