Fire marshals stress importance of mitigation
By now everyone living in the Pikes Peak region has seen the destruction from the Waldo Canyon Fire and Black Forest Fire.
For years local fire departments have been stressing the importance of mitigation because as they have said repeatedly about wildfires “it's not if but when.”
Margo Humes, fire marshal for Westcott Fire Protection District, said the department has received two grants recently to do fire mitigation in Pleasant View Estates and Shamrock Ranch. A lot of mitigation was done along Colo. 83 to create a shaded fuel break and she said the Black Forest Fire did not cross over the shaded fuel break.
“It made a difference,” Humes said.
Humes and John Vincent, fire marshal for the Tri-Lakes Monument Fire Protection District, stress the importance of homeowners doing their part in saving their homes and that's by fire mitigation.
“As I've told the HOA's when I'm briefing them, I am not going to die to protect your home. None of the fireman are,” Vincent said.
“It should never be sacrificing life to save a property,” Humes added. “Homes are important to us. We don't want anybody's home to burn. That's what we're trying to avoid but people have to help themselves to. We can't do it all.”
“We are not callous,” Vincent said, adding that fire departments have minimal resources to fight a fire. “If we spent the amount of money we spend on fighting a forest fire in pre-mitigation efforts we would spend less.”
Vincent and Humes have been working to get the message of mitigation out and have even been approached by other towns and municipalities to give presentations.
“John and I have really, really tried to get the message out to people. We continue to do so. We've had homeowner association call us and ask us to do presentations,” Humes said.
The areas in Black Forest and Mountain Shadows that have already burned are now safe from a wild land fire but its other areas like the remainder of Black Forest, Monument, Woodmoor, Palmer Lake, Gleneagle, Rockrimmon and the Broadmoor that are in danger of a wild land fire. Vincent said other areas like Summit County and Grand County, where the beetles have killed the trees, are in danger of a wildfire as well.
“This state is going to be impacted so horribly along Interstate 70, Summit County (and) Eagle County all up in there, because if you've driven up there recently you'll see almost all the trees are brown and dead from beetle kill,” Humes said. “The town of Vail, the fire marshal up there (said) it's going to be horrific. It will impact this state because I-70 will shut down. It's not just going to impact this state it will impact California, Utah, Arizona because they are going to shut that (I-70) down. You won't be able to get through there because of the fire.”
Wildfires are a part of nature
Vincent said fires are a natural occurring element on the earth such as hurricanes and volcanoes. People have impacted the ecosystem by moving into these areas and they haven't had a chance to burn. There are too many trees per acre that haven't been thinned out by fire so the beetles are thinning out the trees by killing them.
The U.S. Forest Service ideal model is 50 trees per acre but Humes said there are thousands of trees on an acre now.
“What we tell people is if you can't look up and see the sky you have too much canopy,” Vincent said.
“If the trees are touching each other they're too close,” Humes added.
Vincent and Humes said people also shouldn't put mulch or grass up against their houses but instead use rock. People are concentrating on making homes harder to burn but they should concentrate on the fuels close to the house.
“If you get the fuels pushed back and thin them out how hard does your home have to be” Vincent said. “Don't make the house harder to burn make your yard harder to get the fire in there.”
Humes said there is nothing wrong with people living in the forest and that they moved here for a reason but they need to mitigate to protect their homes.
”We live in an area that is prone to this (fire) and we've been in denial of where we live and mother nature is trying to correct it,” Vincent said.
Westcott and Tri-Lakes, as well as Black Forest Fire Protection District and Palmer Lake Volunteer Fire Department, will go to a home in their district and give the homeowner a free assessment of the home and property and what to do to reduce the risk of losing their home in a wildfire.