By Scott Prater
Strong winds and drought conditions during the past few months have combined to produce extremely high wildfire dangers in south central and southeastern Colorado according to the National Weather Service.
“The potential for wildfire on or near Schriever Air Force Base is much higher now than in previous spring seasons ,” said Schriever Deputy Fire Chief Mark Captain. “So far this year Colorado has experienced eight times its average number of wildfires for this time period.”
United States Forest Service regional forecaster Rick Cables reported that 26 wildfires have burned in the state this year as of March 17.
“As a point of reference, anyone who lived here during 2002 remembers the Hayman Fire, which burned 138,114 acres of forest and wildland north of Woodland Park,” said Chief Captain. “That year we had just three fires flare up in the state before March 18.”
The increased alerts haven’t gone unnoticed by Schriever’s Fire Department.
“Each morning during roll call we discuss the alert conditions,” Chief Captain said. “If red-flag conditions are in effect or predicted for the day, we’ll assign two people as the wildland crew and we prepare our Brush Truck, a 4-wheel drive truck, for service. That truck holds 250 gallons of water, which we’ll need to get on the scene should a fire flare up on or near the vicinity of the base.”
The SFD also follows a wildland fire management plan.
This plan calls for specific safety measures to minimize hazard. For instance, there is a plan for the contractor to mow a 200-foot area around the entire base housing area down to 3 inches. During 2008, while crews were just starting construction on the housing area, a brush fire burned through 900 acres on the east side of the base.
That said, the chief notes that base personnel shouldn’t be worried about a wildfire burning an on-base structure, but should still take precautions to make sure their residence is free of excess materials such as garbage, which may contribute to the spread of fire.
“We’re a modern base; with the exception of housing, almost all of our building’s exteriors were constructed of concrete and metal,” he said. The greater threat to people may come from the smoke that accompanies a fire, but we’ve got ample public communication tools to where we’ll be able to evacuate areas should we need to do so.”
Schriever is well equipped for water supply with ample fire hydrants, which are connected to the water district supplier. Base hydrants are even used by local rural fire departments to fill their tenders when needed during nearby wildfires, such as the one that burned 147 acres last month.
The recent wildfires west of Denver and in nearby Douglas County the week of March 21 reminded local residents that a wildfire could easily flare up here.
“Yes, we woke up to snow this week, but the small amounts of precipitation our area has received this week hasn’t done much to mitigate the extreme fire threat, and with projected higher temperatures and wind later in the week, red-flag conditions will probably return,” Chief Captain said.
Base personnel and housing residents are urged to be aware of the heightened danger warnings and make sure they have an evacuation plan, should the need arise.
Chief Captain indicated the fire department, if necessary, would ask 50th Security Forces Squadron personnel to go door-to-door warning residents should a fire threaten the housing area.
“Those who live off base should take a few precautions to limit wildfire exposure to their homes,” he said. “The residents in Franktown last week were told they should be ready to evacuate in 10 minutes. That’s not a whole lot of time, so people need to have a plan. Make sure all of your family members know of the plan and include phone numbers and contact information.”