4 July 2012: Prepare before wildfire disaster strikes

Prepare before wildfire disaster strikes

How quickly perspectives can change: Tinder-dry, tightly packed pine trees loaded with tar once a source of Clear Creek beauty and serenity are being looked at with askance, seen as a threat, fuel for an inferno that can sweep away our community.

Can wildfires consuming the parched Front Range forests happen here?  Those who’ve lived up here for more than a few years know the reality and denying that awful prospect is akin to one doing his/her best ostrich imitation.

Yes, we’re one lightning strike, stupidly tossed cigarette butt, illegal campfire, illicit firework, human-induced spark away from such a scenario.

That’s the bad news.  The good or somewhat comforting news is that according to Fire Chief Kelly Babeon that the higher in altitude, the less likely the scenarios being played out in the Front Range/Foothills areas happening here.

Of course, I’m writing from the perspective of one living at 8500’.  The east and south areas of the county fall more in what is now called a Wildland Urban Interface, or WUI.

Mountain living is fraught with peril.  The dangers or risks, from falling rocks—think Georgetown hill—and avalanches to blow-downs and fast-spreading fires, for some add to the allure.  For others, it balances the equation.

As Samuel Johnson said once in entirely different context, “Nothing focuses the mind like a hanging.”  OK, we’re not imminently in danger of execution, but the conditions are ripe for a conflagration.

It’s one thing, though, to panic at a whiff of smoke or sight of a plume and another to maintain a heightened state of awareness.  The latter calls for personal preparation, public discourse, and community cooperation.

Last week, about 35 Silver Plume residents gathered to talk about a potential disaster.

“We definitely appreciated the presence and input at the meeting from Fire Chief Kelly Babeon and Commissioners Tim Mauck and Kevin O’Malley,” Bill McCormick tells me.

“I feel the more we educate ourselves and take proactive steps to prevent them, the stronger all of us in CCC will be in relation to wildfires.”

“The key is to be prepared,” says Chief Babeon.  “Everyone needs to be registered on the sheriff’s CodeRed hotline,” a reverse 911 system that allows emergency dispatchers to deliver public safety messages of up to 60,000 calls per hour.

Certainly, if you don’t have a land-line, you must register your cell phone number to get on the auto-call list.  Also, it would be wise to double-check to see if you are on the CodeRed contact list.   Either can be easily done by going to www.clearcreeksheriff.us or calling 303-679-2376.

It is critical mountain denizens know the drill about preparing one’s home and perimeter, creating a defensible space such as by clearing away dead brush and locating firewood stacks a distance away.  Even if one does, it doesn’t hurt to refresh one’s knowledge on the dos-and-don’ts.

Two sites Babeon recommends, in addition to the CCC Fire Authority site at www.clearcreekfire.com, are www.ready.gov and www.extension.org, part of the Colorado State University Outreach program.  On that one, click on “Why firefighters can’t save every home.”  Attached is a series of short articles dealing with related issues from evacuation preparedness for pets to “What if I’m trapped?”  Best to avoid that scenario.

I’ve heard a number say that if a fire breaks out, “just get the hell out.”  Which way, though?  Mill Creek has one egress/exit.  The same is true for residents on and above Fall River Rd.

Even the interstate might be problematic.  Recall the scene of thousands trying to wend their way out of Colorado Springs on I-25 after the Waldo Fire broke out.  Then imagine a fire breaking out at Bakerville stoked by down-slope winds on a Sunday afternoon when I-70 is a virtual parking lot.

“A gridlocked I-70 Eastbound coinciding with high winds, fast moving fire and an evacuation order could be deadly,” says McCormick. “Other Plume residents who’d been at the meeting were wondering the same thing.”

On that, Babeon says westbound traffic could be stopped with all lanes utilized to move traffic east and out, but even that, he agrees, would take precious time to effect.

Should a fire break out, we have the responsibility to get out, to get out of the way of its path and of the firefighters who are risking it all to save us and our homes.

While safe areas such as around Georgetown Lake would be established, “We’re going to be aggressive with evacuation,” says Babeon.

Right on.  A house can be rebuilt, and stuff can be replaced.  A human or an animal’s life cannot.

More to come in the weeks ahead.

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