Wildfire Lessons From Colorado

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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Here in Colorado we have just gone through a tough wildfire period. One of the worst in Colorado history. One wildfire alone has destroyed 346 homes alone.  Another 26 homes in a different wildfire and more in other fires.  All tolled hundreds of homes lost and tremendous heart ache and personal loss. It will take years for some people to put their lives back together.  With all this wildfire destruction we were fortunate that very few lives were lost. At one point we had one third of the entire nations  wildfire resources trying to save our mountains and those who lived there.TV crews were telling us we were in the wildfire season and now we are in the monsoon season.  These “seasons” were recently invented to explain the existence of wildfires apparently. We can’t control the weather and when it gets hot and dry apparently it is now called a “wildfire season.”  Being able to identify it as  a “season’ must  justify or explain a disaster. We can’t control the weather and dry windy conditions but we can do what is necessary to protect ourselves. When a wildfire is progressing down a mountain or across a meadow is not the time to start making preparation.  

In our particular community wildfire mitigation has been going on for a few years. Hopefully it will be sufficient but the people in Colorado Springs who had defensible space and made preparation ahead of time discovered sometimes it is still not enough. Our community is 15 miles long with one way in and one way out.  More on our community as an example in part two of this series. It is up to everyone as an individual to do what they can to protect themselves and be prepared. Removing trees and undergrowth 30-50 feet around your homes is a good start.  To trim limbs off trees up to 20 feet high is another.  To rake dead ground debris away from your house is yet another. To make sure your driveway is wide enough to accommodate fire fighting equipment is also a good idea.  Experts are telling us it may get worse in the future but I personally don’t see how that is possible. I think our disaster was a wake up call for remedial action.

While it is cozy to build a log home in the mountains it can also be dangerous. Embers can travel up to a quarter mile on the wind and land on your structure starting a fire. A log home is fuel waiting for a spark to ignite it. What if you can’t evacuate and the wildfire has cut off your escape route?  There are products on the market that when sprayed with a high pressure unit will protect your property for up to 72 hours against wildfire ignition. They require a lot of water in order  to apply so hopefully the authorities will not cut power like they did in most areas recently to encourage people to evacuate. Many who live remote have wells and need power to pump water up from the ground. Going into your search engine and typing in ‘wildfire retardant’ should give you access to some of these products. I do not know if they work or not but for a few hundred dollars it is certainly worth consideration. 

You can also take other measures. We have an A-Frame home which has a steep roof.  (See photo) Embers would not adhere to the steep metal roof and our exterior is stone work that is not a fuel source. Our only exposed area is the deck and a hose and sprinkler would work in a pinch, assuming the power is not turned off.  We keep the undergrowth mowed around our house and have eliminated trees a safe distance away from the structure itself. Those remaining trees have had the limbs cut up to 20′ high. It is best to do all you can in case you have been cut off from escape and having a well thought out plan ahead of time is essential. Have a list of things to take with you.  Some folks only received a few minutes notice to evacuate so be vigilant. We have stored plenty of surplus water  in case they cut power – which I hope they would not  do especially if some people can’t evacuate safely. With our utilities underground there is no reason to cut electric power and leave those unable to evacuate defenseless. Heroic firefighters will do all they can but in the end it is up to each of us to do all we can too. To totally  rely on others could be a serious mistake that could cost you your life. Wildfire mitigation should start with each individual and progress up to government agencies to then do what they can given their abilities. In a community like ours with limited access and houses spread out sometimes miles apart, they may not be able to safely get to some homes.  It is foolish to rely on firefighters to put themselves at unnecessary risk due to individual laziness. Plan as if no help may come because it may not be able to for one reason or  another.

In part two I will cover some good plans as well as some faulty plans that others can consider and hopefully avoid pitfalls. Don’t wait until it is “wildfire season” to start your preparation, start now! 

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and mountain living go to: http://www.brucecarolcabin.blogspot.com