Our view: Checked your spark arrestor lately?
The light rain that fell across Routt County June 17 and 18 took some of the edge off the wildfire danger here. But it wasn’t significant enough to warrant complacency so soon after an event like the Buffalo Mountain Fire that threatened homes in Silverthorne last week.
If there is anything we’ve learned from the horrific fires that swept through California wine country last year, it’s the importance of having a “go-box” prepared with important household documents and a few treasured possession. How many of us in Routt County haven’t yet prepared for the unthinkable?
The Buffalo Mountain Fire was 95-percent contained as of June 16, and regional firefighters had turned mop-up operations over to local firefighters. To the north of Steamboat, the much larger Badger Creek Fire, burning in the Medicine Bow Routt National Forest just north of the state line in Wyoming, was deemed 88-percent contained as of the morning of June 19.
If anything, Buffalo Mountain served as a reminder for the Yampa Valley. We experienced two major fires in the summer of 2017 with limited loss of property.
With that in mind, we urge our readers to be wildfire wise and diligent in making sure they are prepared in case wildfire should break out in the area. After weeks of watching the 416 Fire burn near Durango, we can learn from that blaze. In particular, wildfire mitigation was credited with protecting thousands of structures there.
The Colorado State Forest Service estimates that more than two million Coloradans live in the wildland-urban fire interface, defined as any area where manmade improvements are built close to, or within, natural terrain and flammable vegetation.
Mitigation of that risk implies taking steps in advance. Fortunately, the Colorado State Forest Service has published information about evaluating wildfire risk and minimizing it around your home and property.
Some of those measures would be simple for many homeowners to undertake themselves and include mowing dry grasses and weeds and stacking firewood away from the home. The State Forest Service also recommends thinning evergreen trees to maintain a distance of 10 to 12 feet between tree crowns and prune branches to 10 feet above the ground.
When we think of preventing wildfire, we most often think of making certain that our campfires are out, and we’re adhering to the ban on any form of fireworks on public lands. Many of us are less aware of the role that cars and trucks, off-highway vehicles and dirt bikes play in starting wildfires.
Motorists operating cars and trucks along forest roads should think twice about pulling into a grassy area to park their vehicles before going fishing or to explore the area. Hot mufflers and exhaust pipes can easily cause a fire. Exhaust systems with holes in them pose an increased danger of sparking a wildfire.
Even more hazardous are catalytic converters in the undercarriage of cars. Intended to trap pollutants, they can get as hot as 1,400 degrees. If they come into contact with grasses or weeds, a fire is the likely outcome.
When it comes to smaller vehicles in the woods, Colorado Parks and Wildlife regulations require people operating off-highway vehicles on public land to have a spark arrestor in good working order.
A spark arrestor is formally defined as a device that traps or pulverizes exhaust particles as they are expelled from an internal combustion engine exhaust system. If they aren’t trapped, those hot exhaust particles can spark a fire.
We checked with local retailers, and they can repair or replace existing spark arrestors that are not functional.
All of us bear responsibility for taking measures to protect our own property from wildfire, and all of us who recreate on public lands have a duty to guard against wildfires. With that in mind, we would urge everyone to pack a small shovel when heading into the woods — there is no more practical tool to quickly snuff out a small fire.
And, just to be safe, we would also urge people to leave their cigarettes at home when they head for public lands.
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