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Wildfire Safety Tips

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Preparing your facilities and home for the next major wildfire.

With summer here, the risk of wildfires has once again become a concern in Colorado and much of the western US. Did you know that every year there are more than 75,000 wildfires reported in the US burning over 7 million acres, and that 9 out 10 of them are caused by humans? Many fires are ignited by lightning, so it’s important to be prepared. When assessing your risk, take note of how far structures are from vegetation. Embers can jump to buildings so it’s a good idea to establish a “Safety Zone.”

Zone 1 – Safety Zone: A cleared area 15-30″ from structure(s): In the initial zone, clear flammable vegetation that could ignite. If there are trees you cannot remove, make sure they are pruned and that no branches are hovering near your buildings. Basic maintenance such as removing pine needles from your roof and gutters will help prevent any embers that land on your roof from catching fire.

Zone 2 – Transition Zone: 75-125″ from the structure(s): Often ignored, this area plays a huge part in protecting a structure. Pick up dried branches, leaves, and miscellaneous debris to keep your area fuel-free. Pruning trees in this area will also help keep the fire from jumping from tree to tree.

Zone 3 – Management Zone: The area beyond Zone 2: If Zone 3 is within your property line, you should have a plan similar to Zone 2 to help defend against wildfire. Remote buildings in the foothills and mountains of Colorado are the most susceptible to wildfire. These areas are called wildland-urban interfaces. This is where structures and other development intermingle with wildland fuels.

Wildfire Mitigation Zone Graphic

If you aren’t already, it is a good idea to become familiar with your district’s wildfire-related risks. There are many tools available to help you determine the scope and severity of your risk and to help build defenses against it. This includes the Colorado Wildfire Risk map, which allows you to review the risk for your facilities and home by searching.

Once you know your risks, you can view your county’s Wildfire Protection Plan. Boulder even included a “Wildfire Mitigation Quick Checklist.” It includes tips such as creating a vegetation-free perimeter around structures and where to store firewood and other combustible materials. These resources are listed at the end of this article.

This year marks the debut of a new system that better warns residents living in the path of wildfires. A joint effort between the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the Colorado Division of Fire Protection and Control are making this happen thanks to a bill passed in 2015. It uses wind readings to determine how a wildfire may change course and speed. The benefits of this are tremendous. They may be able to predict movement of fires 12 hours before they occur, giving residents more time to evacuate and prepare. It will also give firefighters a much better idea of where they should focus their efforts and direct resources.

This system differs from existing models, which focus on terrain. Because fires can create winds that may have 10 times the strength of typical weather patterns, this newer system combines that with fire behavior simulations.

Wildfires can be very unpredictable, but hopefully with the help of this new system, Colorado can fight wildfires more efficiently and safely. As the system gets utilized, it will hopefully evolve over time to become even more useful.

Sample  Wildfire Preparation Checklist

  • Create a wildlands fire action plan, visit wildlandfireRSG.org
  • Know your evacuation routes
  • Keep emergency supply kits in your district facilities and vehicles
  • Ensure your address is clearly marked and visible from the street
  • Establish and maintain firebreaks around your facility
  • Clearly mark water tanks, ponds, and other water supplies available for fire department use
  • Reinforce bridges to ensure that fire engines or bulldozers are supported
  • Access resources from Federal agencies from sites like Ready.gov
  • Consult your local fire department for additional advice, resources, and guidance

Sources:

https://www.coloradowildfirerisk.com/map
http://www.cultureofsafety.com/wilderness/forest-fire-prevention/
http://www.bizjournals.com/denver/blog/capitol_business/2015/12/colorados-cutting-edge-wildfire-prediction-tool.html
http://www.bouldercounty.org/property/forest/pages/wildfiremitigationfaq.aspx
http://www.bouldercounty.org/doc/landuse/wildfiremitigationquickchecklist.pdf
http://csfs.colostate.edu/wildfire-mitigation/colorado-community-wildfire-protection-plans/

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