Wildfires have been raging in Colorado lately and thousands upon thousands of acres have burned along with many homes. Those of us who live in the mountains know the fear and the reality of wildfires. We are blessed having the United States Forest Service and our local volunteer fire departments to respond when the need arises.
A wildfire is defined as a fire that burns forests, prairies, or any large natural area. Wildfires are typically started by lightning or careless human acts. Fire bans are put into place as the need arises to prevent accidental events, but sadly, some people ignore these bans, creating a danger for the rest of us.
We know that some fires are simply a part of the environment. Our forests and rangelands were burning long before there was a Denver, Grand Junction or Durango. Many plants need occasional fire to reproduce, and fire offers other benefits to the natural environment. When fire burns decaying branches and stumps, the nutrients from the plants are released into the soil making them available to new plants.
Without fire, open environments such as prairies could eventually become covered with trees. When fires are not allowed to burn occasionally in the wildlands, the thick growth of plants near the ground level provides a lot of potential fuel. If a wildfire then begins to burn, it burns hotter and faster because of the extra fuel.
Occasionally USFS will start and/or allow small, controlled fires that burn the fuel that is close to the ground. Managed fires are fires that are naturally sourced fires that fire managers allow to run their course with planning and managing to keep them under careful control. Or prescribed fires, which are fires intentionally started by the forest service. The idea is to remove as much extra fuel as possible: dead trees, branches, thick grass, pinecones, and other debris. These controlled fires also allow for healthier growth of trees and plant life.
Even though wildland fire can be beneficial to the environment, it is always dangerous. No forest community is completely safe from wildfire, but we can be wise about how our homes and communities are designed and built.
Every year many families lose their homes and possession to the ravages of wildfire. These losses could be minimized if homeowners would take the time and trouble to become aware of safety measures to help protect their homes. There are many precautions and procedures recommended by the USFS that can reduce the risk of losing your home to a wildfire.
The roof and exterior structure of your dwelling should be constructed of non-combustible or fire-resistant materials such as asphalt roofing shingles, tile, slate, sheet iron, aluminum, brick or stone. Wood siding, cedar shakes, exterior wood paneling, and other highly combustible materials should be treated with fire retardant chemicals.
Maintenance and upkeep are also important and should be done regularly. Clean your roof, keep your chimney clean, firewood, picnic tables, boats, etc., should be kept 30 feet from your house. Keep your grass mowed short, trim trees and bushes, allowing ample space between your home and landscape vegetation. Being nestled in the trees adds a nice touch to your home, but keeping the trees trimmed and away from your home can make a big difference in keeping your home from burning. Dead trees should be cut down and removed.
Firefighters will do whatever they can to protect dwellings, but following these recommendations can make their job easier and perhaps even save your home. Contact your local fire district for more pointers and tips and to keep up to date with burning regulations.
There are also fire mitigation services that will help create defensible space around your home to prevent a fire from moving from your home to the forest, and vice versa, as well as provide firefighters with adequate room to reach your home and room to maneuver. More information and tips can be found at https://www.nfpa.org/Public-Education/Fire-causes-and-risks/Wildfire/Firewise-USA.
And, in the event you are evacuated, you should be prepared and have ready a “Go Kit.” It should include things like prescription medication, emergency supplies, important documents, pet food, and other items you might need. Preassemble your “Go Kit” and keep it easily assessable.
Have an escape plan of where you can stay, plan for your pets and other animals, and make sure you are familiar with your local emergency notification and evacuation systems. Remain alert and cooperate with local authorities during evacuation and re-entry processes.
With more people moving to the mountains and using our wildlands, the potential for human-caused fire is higher and everyone needs to be aware, ready, and prepared. Remember, a little extra care takes only a few minutes of your time. And it could prevent a wildfire and could possibly save your home and your life.
“Wildfire preparedness is a cooperative effort between fire management personnel and homeowners that begins long before the fire starts. Any work homeowners can do in advance to make their community more resilient to wildfire greatly increases fire fighter safety and opportunity for success,” said Chris Rokosh, Fuels AFMO, USFS.