Initial wildfire conference talks strategy
Routt County residents urged to sign up for emergency notification system
As 125 viewers tuned in to the kickoff educational session of the 2021 Routt County Wildfire Conference, the county’s Emergency Management Director David “Mo” DeMorat illustrated the important need for all residents to sign up for the local Emergency Notification System.
DeMorat said during the almost 4,200-acre Deep Creek Fire in September 2017 northeast of Hayden, a rural neighborhood needed to be notified about a pre-evacuation order. Notifying residents about the possible approach of wildfire can take as few as five minutes with the use of reverse 911 phone calls.
“We sent out a notice to all the houses in the community to begin to prepare for evacuation. The data came back that out of about 24 homes, only two were registered” for the Emergency Notification System, DeMorat said.
Routt County Sheriff’s Office officials were dispatched to go door to door to notify residents. That process took more than two hours.
“That’s two hours of time that if homeowners had registered, they would have had time to collect valuables,” DeMorat said. “It is critically important that people register with Routt County Alerts” available at RouttCountyAlerts.com.
DeMorat said Friday that while emergency leaders would like to have 100% of the community enrolled, registration by residents has hovered around 13%. When residents noticed the smoke of the Middle Fork Fire last fall, registration levels increased to 19%, DeMorat said.
Another advantage of residents registering for alerts is the ability to self-identify to let emergency responders know if residents need extra assistance because they don’t drive or have medical needs.
That registration plea was one of the measures recommended by the six panelists during the Thursday evening webinar when a viewer asked what is the most important thing to do to prepare for this year’s predicted active wildfire session.
Panelists encouraged residents to visit the Firewise USA website through the National Fire Protection Association for information on how to protect their homes and property from wildfire embers that can travel for a mile. John Twitchell, local supervisory forester for the Colorado State Forest Service, said creating defensive space around a property is key because agency wildfire mitigation efforts can only address a limited number of acres each year.
“Many times houses burn down without fire reaching the home. It’s the ember shower from the forest” that catches the home ablaze, Twitchell said.
Panelist Dan Gibbs, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, also is a wildland firefighter who worked on two of last summer’s large fires. Gibbs said an estimated half of Colorado’s 5.9 million residents live in WUI fire danger areas, or the Wildland Urban Interface where homes and developments meet vegetation.
Gibbs said Colorado has lost some 3,000 homes and structures to wildfires since 2005, and studies show Colorado needs $700 million in fire mitigation work for the highest priority areas.
Panelist Brad White, fire chief at Grand Fire Protection District No. 1, said the East Troublesome Fire that started Oct. 14, 2020, northeast of Kremmling destroyed 566 structures including 366 homes. Despite “huge explosive growth” on Oct. 21 that consumed some 106,000 acres in half a day, mitigation and preventive work did help, White said.
“Many homes were saved that had done some mitigation work,” White said. “Everything counts working with HOAs and property owners. Mitigation was effective where fire conditions allowed it to be effective.”
The panelists often mentioned the relatively new wildfire strategy call PODs, or Potential Operational Delineations, to ensure very strategic thinking in fighting wildfires. A POD approach combines local knowledge and satellite imagery to map important fire danger areas before a fire starts. PODs show potential fire control lines such as roads, trails, ridgelines, drainages, old burns and recent fuel treatments.
Panelist Kevin Thompson, a local fire management officer with the U.S. Forest Service, said work is ongoing to draft PODs in Routt County. The POD approach maps higher wildfire risk areas in a multiagency manner across jurisdictional boundaries. The work helps firefighters make critical decisions of where to focus efforts as not every acre of fire should be treated equally.
Thompson noted that since 2008, fuels reduction work was completed on more than 35,000 acres in forest land in Routt, Jackson and Grand counties, including almost 4,300 acres in the WUI and 1,100 acres on the “Steamboat Front” east of the city.
The Routt County Wildfire Conference continues with three more webinars including 5 p.m. May 6 with “Home Ignition Zone and Ready, Set, Go – Being Prepared as an Individual Home or Ranch Owner.” Additional webinars presented by the Routt County Wildfire Mitigation Council will be May 13 and 20. The preregistration link, recordings of each webinar and resources are available at RouttWildfire.org. Residents can also email with questions to email@example.com.
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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