Wildfire Awareness Month addresses ‘new normal’ for Colorado
Over the past two years, several megafires have burned into the memory of Colorado residents. In October 2020, the Cameron Peak Fire and the East Troublesome Fire conflagrated to become the respectively the largest and 2nd largest fires in the state’s history. In 2021, the Black Mountain Fire scorched Grand County outside of Kremmling. Then last December, Boulder’s Marshall Fire destroyed nearly 1,000 homes, becoming the most destructive fire in Colorado to date.
Colorado is experiencing a new “normal” for wildfires, driven by extreme weather and drought. With ongoing warming temperatures continuing to elevate wildfire risk for many Coloradans, state and federal agencies that manage wildfires and forests are urging residents to join efforts to reduce that risk.
May is Wildfire Awareness Month, an annual observance to encourage residents to better prepare their homes and communities for wildfires. With more than half of all Coloradans living in the wildland-urban interface and susceptible to wildfire, it’s important for people to take action to reduce the risk fire poses and create more fire-adapted communities.
The Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control anticipates above-average temperatures and below-average precipitation from now into June. This will cause the emergence of above-average, significant fire potential over the eastern portions of Colorado this spring. Continuation of the warm and dry conditions is expected to result in drought intensification and earlier than average spring snowpack runoff, leading to above normal large fire potential expanding across southern Colorado in May and throughout most of Colorado by June.
“Wildfire ‘season’ is a thing of the past — it is a year-round battle. Colorado’s core fire season is now an average of 78 days longer than it was in the ’70s,” said Division of Fire Prevention and Control Director Mike Morgan. “We are calling on those that live, work and play in Colorado to help reduce the impact of wildfires by being vigilant, respecting fire restrictions when they are in place, and doing your part to protect your property from wildfire.”
During Wildfire Community Preparedness Day on Saturday, May 7, many communities across Colorado will take steps to reduce their risk of fire. Colorado is home to 186 official Firewise USA sites — places where neighbors are working together to reduce their risk to wildfires. Grand County, with support from the Grand County Wildfire Council, has 10 Firewise sites. These sites are: Pole Creek Meadows, Winter Park Highlands, The Valley at Winter Park, Homestead Hills, Ten Mile Creek, Shadow Mountain Estates, Shadow Mountain Ranch POA, The Fairways at Pole Creek, The Reserve at Elkhorn, and Gorewood.
Whether they live in a Firewise USA site or not, homeowners living in the wildland-urban interface can do much to protect their property from wildfire. The Colorado State Forest Service recommends the following wildfire preparation activities:
- Rake and remove pine needles and dry leaves 5 feet from the home, as well as under decks, porches, sheds and play structures
- Remove leaves and needles from roofs and gutters
- Sweep porches and decks clear of any burnable plant material
- Move firewood piles at least 30 feet from the house, preferably uphill
- Transfer items under decks or porches to a storage area
- Cover any exposed eave or attic vents with 1/8-inch metal mesh screening
- Ensure home address signs are clearly visible from the street
- Contact your local Office of Emergency Management to register for emergency notifications and encourage your friends, family and neighbors to do the same
- Confirm at least one alternate path out of your neighborhood other than the one most commonly used and be prepared for potential evacuation requiring the alternative route
“Taking care of these simple, but critically important, tasks will better prepare you and your family for a wildfire,” said Matt McCombs, State Forester and Director of the state forest service. “Last December’s Marshall Fire was a tragic, eye-opening reminder…Homeowners have a responsibility to themselves and their families, as well as their community, to prepare their home and property for wildfire, and these activities are the perfect place to start.”
Simple measures can reduce the fire risk and provide for a much safer environment when visiting public lands. “Know before you go” by checking for closures or restrictions during periods of high fire danger. When traveling throughout public lands, ensure that the chains to your trailer are not dragging since these can spark wildfires. Your vehicle should also be equipped with a spark arrester. Do not park in tall, dry grass because the heat from your car can start a wildfire. If you smoke, smoke in your vehicle and dispose of your cigarette properly.
If campfires or grills are allowed, clear vegetation away from the area and use a preexisting campfire ring when possible. Have the proper tools to extinguish the campfire nearby before you light it, including a bucket, water, and shovel. Keep your fire small and never leave it unattended. Flood your fire with plenty of water and be certain that the ashes are cold to the touch before leaving the area. Learn more tips for preventing wildfire risk while recreating outdoors by visiting RecreateResponsibly.org.
“Our need to respond to wildfires continues to increase as the intensity and duration of fire activity escalates across the state. Now, more than ever, we are pleased to stand together with our interagency partners as we approach Wildfire Awareness Month and the new fire year. Collectively, we will focus on fire prevention,” said Frank Beum, Regional Forester of the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Region. “When there is fire activity, our goal will be rapid initial attack and fast containment to minimize the number of large fires. We will respond to every wildfire with public and firefighter safety as our highest priority.”
Wildland fire management in Colorado is an interagency partnership among local, state, and federal agencies. The Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control and the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Region work with other agencies to coordinate wildland fire management on a statewide basis. The state forest service works with the National Fire Protection Association to implement Colorado’s Firewise USA programs. They also provide technical assistance to homeowners and communities to help them prepare their homes against the threat of wildfire.
“Forest health, wildfire, water and recreation resource management challenges and issues directly affect every citizen in our state. Joint planning to focus on the highest and most critical landscapes is essential,” said Scott Woods, partnership coordinator for the state forest service.
Woods highlighted how Colorado’s Shared Stewardship agreement helps to mitigate wildfire danger. The Shared Stewardship agreement was created in 2019 between the state of Colorado and the U.S. Forest Service.
“It integrated federal, state and local approaches to leverage people and organizations to get forest treatments to scale,” Woods said. These treatments include forest restoration in the Rocky Mountain west, protecting water resources and more.
By working together in these efforts, the ultimate goals of these agencies are resilient, fire-adapted landscapes and communities. This is the best way provide for firefighter and public safety, as well as the protection of natural resources.
“The opportunities to increase the pace and scale of treatments and practices to protect communities …must be taken seriously to maintain the natural, social and economic values that are of such significant importance to our state,” said Woods.
For more information about reducing wildfire risk, search for the hashtag #COWildfireAware during May on Twitter and Facebook, or visit CSFS.colostate.edu/wildfire-mitigation.
Fire Adapted Colorado: FireAdaptedCO.org.
Grand County Wildfire Council: BeWildfireReady.org
Grand Fire Protection District: GrandFire.org
Grand County Evacuation Map: CO.Grand.co.us/EvacMap
FireWise USA: NFPA.org/public-education/fire-causes-and-risks/wildfire/firewise-usa
Shared Stewardship: DNR.Colorado.gov/shared-stewardship-in-colorado
Colorado State Forest Service: CSFS.colostate.edu
US Forest Service: FS.usda.gov
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