Jerome DeFelice, Denver. This month marks two key wildfire anniversaries which serve as an important reminder that families need to take proactive steps to protect themselves and their property against wildfires.
Twenty years ago, on July 2, 1994, lightning sparked a blaze on Storm King Mountain, just west of Glenwood Springs. The South Canyon Fire started out slowly, covering just three acres over two days. Then due to several factors such as available fuel, slope of the terrain and wind, the fire began a high-intensity, fast moving front. While trying to control the blaze in rugged environment, 14 firefighters lost their lives.
July 9, 2014 marked the 25th Anniversary of the Black Tiger Fire in Boulder County. The human-caused fire swept through residential areas, destroying 44 homes and burning almost 2,100 acres. At the time, the Black Tiger Fire was the worst wildland fire loss in Colorado history. As people continued to build in the Wildland-Urban Interface, the Black Tiger Fire underscored the importance of homeowners taking steps to protect their homes against wildfires. The lessons learned from the Black Tiger Fire was a catalyst for many of the current recommended mitigation measures established by firefighting organizations.
In recognition of both anniversaries, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Region want you to prepare yourself, your family, and your property for wildfires. Taking steps to mitigate not only protects you and your family, but also helps reduce risk to firefighters and other first responders.
Understand your Risk:
To determine your property’s risk, contact your local fire department. They will be able to provide specific information about your community’s hazards, and may be able to offer an individual assessment on your home.
If you live in Colorado, you may also check your property’s risk at the Colorado Wildfire Risk Assessment Portal.
Protect your Property:
• Create defensible space around your property:
• Clear leaves and other debris from gutters, eaves, porches and decks – and don’t use these areas for storage of flammable items. This helps prevent embers from igniting these materials.
• Keep lawns hydrated and maintained. Dry grass and shrubs are fuel for wildfire.
• Remove flammable materials within five feet of the home’s foundation and outbuildings, including garages and sheds. If it can catch fire, don’t let it touch the house, deck or wood fencing.
• Reduce vegetation surrounding the home’s perimeter from a 5 foot to 30 foot area and manage vegetation there to 200 feet or the property line, depending on the area’s wildfire risk.
The National Fire Protection Association’s “basics of defensible space and the home ignition zone” page on the Firewise site provides these and other steps to help homeowners prepare their properties to resist wildfire.
Prepare Yourself and Your Family:
• Build an Emergency Kit and make a Family Communications Plan. Visit www.ready.gov for preparedness checklists.
• During a wildfire, listen to local evacuation orders. Do not wait to see what will happen! Due to many variables, including winds, wildfires can change course and speed quickly.
For information on the current wildfire threat, visit the National Interagency Fire Center’s Monthly Wildland Fire Potential Outlook. For additional information on wildfire mitigation resources, visit FEMA Region VIII’s Wildfire Mitigation Resources Page or www.firewise.org/wildfire-preparedness.
A timeline of some of the most significant wildfires to affect the six-state region covered by FEMA’s Denver regional office is available at FEMA Region VIII’s Wildfire Timeline Page.