Community Agriculture Alliance: What can you do now to better prepare for wildfire season?
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
A month ago, while we were in the midst of the holiday season, the Marshall Fire destroyed over a thousand homes and structures in Boulder County.
We were following the news in disbelief, looking out our windows, finding comfort in the snow that had finally come to stay. What are a few of the lessons of the Marshall Fire, and how might we apply them here in Routt County?
The Marshall Fire was Colorado’s most destructive fire in history in terms of residences lost, and it happened in December. This is a dramatic reminder that fire “season” has become greatly extended as we experience hotter and drier weather as a new normal. Snow came late to the Yampa Valley this year.
November was warm and dry, and it is not hard to imagine that a fire event could have happened here as late as Thanksgiving. The Marshall Fire initially spread as a grass fire, but once it started burning homes, those homes became the primary fuel for the fire.
And burning homes produce lots and lots of embers, and embers are a significant cause of home ignition during wildfires. Finally, part of the shock of the Marshall Fire was that it occurred in what we view as a suburban environment, not a forest. This is another reminder that there are few places in our landscape that are free of some risk from wildfire.
It is important to remember that fire is a natural part of these landscapes we chose to live in, and even with a changing climate, there are many ways we can learn to adapt to living with wildland fires. As individuals, we can start by increasing our own wildfire preparedness.
There is a wealth of information available on wildfire preparedness. A good place to start is the newly updated Home Ignition Zone publication that can be found on the Colorado State Forest Service website under the wildfire mitigation section.
This publication incorporates the latest science and understanding of why structures burn during wildfires. It focuses on hardening the home to ignition sources, such as ember showers, and then creating effective defensible space through a series of management zones that radiate out from the homes and other structures.
As members of our community, we can get involved, take action and affect change. We can talk to our neighbors and Home Owners Associations. Fire knows no jurisdictional boundaries, so we need to think of the landscape around us, not just our immediate home.
We can organize and find economies of scale to hire a contractor together to do fuel reduction work on a broader scale. We can get involved with what is happening with wildfire preparedness here in Routt County.
A couple of examples include the 2022 Wildfire Mitigation Conference in late April, sponsored by the Routt Wildfire Council, and the update of the Routt County Community Wildfire Preparedness Plan, a community driven effort that will help us assess and potentially redefine our values at risk and priorities.
To learn more about these initiatives and about how to mitigate your own home and property, contact the Colorado State Forest Service at 970-879-0475 or your local fire department.
Carolina Manriquez serves as secretary of the Routt County Wildfire Mitigation Council and works at Colorado State Forest Service.
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The coldest temperature this winter at the new home of Joe Smyth and Kristen Taddonio was 17 below. They live in Fraser, the Colorado town that used to get far, far colder.