WESTERN SLOPE - Unusually high temperatures and dry conditions on the Western Slope have sparked an early wildfire season and lead local agencies to warn citizens of their personal responsibility to prepare for possible fire threats.
“The most important thing we want to impress upon people is that it really is going to be up to them to be prepared,” said Jennifer Dinsmore, emergency management coordinator for San Miguel County.
A fire in the Paradox Valley that started late last week lead to evacuation, only further stressing the importance of area citizens and visitors knowing how they can safely get out if there is an emergency, she said.
When an evacuation is announced, pack your vehicle with emergency items, and follow news from local media and fire officials. Information on how to build a kit or make a plan can be found at www.readycolorado.com.
Dinsmore said it’s important to remember to follow the instruction and advice of local government – if told to evacuate, do so promptly. If instructed to go to a certain place, go there and no where else. Follow recommended travel routes – no short cuts; shut off water, gas or electric services before leaving, if you are advised to do so and listen to the radio for news about emergency housing and mass feeding station locations and have an evacuation plan, because “sometimes, you have to evacuate quickly and family members might be separated,” Dinsmore said.
Designate an out-of-town family member for all family members to check in whom, in the event cell phones fail.
Let common sense prevail: For example, wildfires can be started from lighting or by man-made causes, such as a discarded cigarette or campfire. “People are still throwing their cigarette butts outside the car window – if you see that, get a license plate number and call 911. They might not start a fire this time, but they need to be educated on that it is not a good idea, especially not in this environment,” Dinsmore said.
Report any smoke or other indication of a possible fire to authorities. “It may be a false alarm and that's fine. Better safe than sorry,” she said.
Work to prevent fires and protect your home. “The first thing is to clear items around the house that could burn,” Dinsmore said, adding that flammable items include a log pile under the porch, a grill and dead leaves. Create a defensible space of a 30-foot radius around the home free of fuels that could start or spread a fire.
Keep helpful items, such as shovels, buckets and water hoses, in accessible places so that if a small fire does start, those items are there to get it under control quickly.
And use common sense, Dinsmore said. “If you think an ember could blow out of whatever you want to burn in, don't do it,” she said.
Other precautions include the use of fire-resistant building materials; reducing the density of the surrounding forest; cleaning roofs and gutters, pruning branches 10 feet above the ground and having the chimney inspected twice a year.
More information on creating a defensible space around the home can be found at www.cowildfire.org/mitigation.
Kati O'Hare at email@example.com