By Scott Prater
As a wave of fresh snow blankets Colorado Springs area streets and lawns this week, it’s difficult to imagine that summer is just around the corner. Soon, many friends and families will enjoy backyard cookouts and barbecues or take camping trips into the high country.
Unfortunately, as local residents know all too well, the heat and dry air of summer also brings a very real danger — wildfire.
Last June, the Black Forest fire consumed 14,000 acres and more than 500 homes. It forced 39,000 people from their homes and killed two Team Schriever members. In June 2012, the Waldo Canyon fire burned 18,000 acres, 346 homes and forced 32,000 people to abandon their neighborhood.
“They all started in June,” said Brad Truver, Schriever Fire Department assistant chief of fire prevention. “This snow we see on the ground is deceiving; Colorado has a very dry climate. A majority of the time, most parts of the state are under a high fire danger.”
Fire danger in a particular area is determined by using the National Fire Danger Rating System, which rates fire danger on five levels, including low, moderate, high, very high and extreme. High fire danger is coded yellow and means fires start easily from most causes, unattended brush and campfires are likely to escape and fire spreads rapidly. Fires in the area may also become serious and difficult to control. Very high danger (color code orange) and extreme danger (color code red) levels mean fires can start easily, spread furiously, burn intensely and quickly become unmanageable.
State and the federal governments can also issue a “red flag warning” when weather conditions reach high potential for extreme wildfires leading to uncontrolled forest fires.
As June approaches, the Schriever Fire Department advises people to start their outdoor spring cleaning.
“You want to go around your property and remove combustibles, like leaves, tree limbs, pine needles and other items that contribute to the fire load of your area,” he said. “Residents should create a safety zone of 30 to 100 feet around their homes by cutting back vegetation and thinning out the trees on their property. This precaution will help keep fires from crowning, or moving along tree tops, which is what happens when they are too close together.”
Truver also recommends that residents mow their lawns anytime grass blades grow above 3 inches as a means for mitigating surface fires.
Residents should also consider the following fire prevention safety tips.
• Never leave grills unattended and always ensure they are completely extinguished.
•Install a smoke detector and keep spare batteries on hand.
•Stay aware of the weather.
•Have an emergency evacuation kit, including emergency water and food, flashlights, first aid kit, essential medicines, cash, credit cards and sturdy shoes.
•Keep important documents, such as marriage and birth certificates, insurance policies and vehicle registrations easily accessible in case of emergency evacuation.
•Register with the Emergency Notification System, also known as reverse 911 at www.elpasoteller911.org.
“It is also important to have a plan of escape that you can execute when the time comes,” said. Master Sgt. Sarah Law, 50th Space Wing ground safety manager. “Develop an emergency evacuation plan, and practice it with everyone who lives in your home. Plan two ways out of your neighborhood, and designate a meeting place. If a wild fire emergency presents itself, leave as early as possible, and do not linger once evacuation orders have been given. Do not go back home until you have been told you can safely do so.”
As we get further into the summer season,we will start hearing about fire restrictions, especially in unincorporated El Paso County. Truver said the announcements usually start with stage-one restrictions and typically increase restrictions as we move along.
“It’s important to know and observe fire restrictions and bans,” he said. “According to the U.S. Forest Service, nine out of every 10 wildfires are started by humans. People should pay attention to media outlets regularly and they can find information on fire restrictions and burn bans in Colorado Springs at Springsgov.com.”