Homeowners’ wildfire-preparedness efforts pay off

Courtesy of Howie Richards/Southern Ute Agency

Thinning of the trees next to the road gave firefighters a larger and safer space to take an offensive stance against an approaching fire.

No one likes to see a wildfire threaten homes. When it does happen, though, it can be rewarding for the homeowner who has taken time to become more wildfire-prepared.

Such is the case with Elk Stream Ranch residents whose homes were threatened by last summer’s 10,000-acre Weber Fire.

With Menefee Mountain, a Bureau of Land Management Wilderness Study Area, just west of their idyllic canyon, residents knew it was not a matter of if, but when, that fire would happen. Wilderness Study Areas are managed like wilderness to preserve their natural characteristics, so no actions to reduce hazardous fuels could be taken.

Equipped with that reality, FireWise ambassador Philip Walters set about figuring out ways he and his neighbors could become better prepared to deal with that eventual wildfire. They started with defensible space around their homes.

Then, in 2008, Walters developed a Community Wildfire Protection Plan. The plan called for two primary actions: educating residents about evacuation, and creating a shaded fuel break along their roads.

The successful execution of those actions allowed residents to evacuate safely and gave firefighters a fighting chance to protect their homes during a wildfire, something many firefighters previously thought would be impossible.

Evacuation planning is a multifaceted effort. At our last Fire Council meeting, I asked our FireWise ambassadors what actions they had taken to prepare for evacuation. Here are some of the ideas they are practicing:

Put together a 72-hour kit, or “Go Bag,” with essentials you will need to be away from home for at least three days.

Pick a place to meet with family or neighbors.

Provide an out-of-state contact with status updates as in-state phone lines often are out of service during emergencies.

Know the streets in your neighborhood, and practice getting to and from your home using different routes.

Coordinate locked gates with neighbors so you can have emergency egress if needed.

Include information in your “Welcome Packet” on emergency egress routes and other evacuation planning.

Develop a list of items that you would take if told to evacuate in 5 minutes, 15 minutes or 30 minutes; keep the list handy, and practice pulling those items together so you have a realistic list.

Have a plan for what to do with your pets or livestock.

If time permits, leave a note in the window for firefighters, letting them know all residents and animals are accounted for, and leave a contact number.

This list is just a start. Every subdivision, every community and every family is a little different and may have different needs. Perhaps you have a disabled child or elderly parent at home who will need attention. Visit with your neighbors so they are prepared to help if you are unavailable. Firefighters will appreciate the efforts you have taken so that they can focus on their job of protecting your home.

May is Fire Prevention and Education Month – a good time to become more aware and prepared for wildfire. What are you waiting for? It may seem like a lot to think about, but we can help.

Pam Wilson is the program director for FireWise of Southwest Colorado and can be reached at 385-8909 or swcoloradofirewise@gmail.com.

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