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5 Steps to Be Wildfire Aware and Prevent Forest Fires

The allurement of living amongst nature has increased the building of homes, businesses, and recreation infrastructures in close proximity to wildlands. The coexistence of urban populations and communities with the forest increases the threat of wildfire to property and human life. The US Forest Service initiates steps to mitigate the threat of forest fires to at-risk communities through fuel mitigation. The goal is to promote forest health and restoration projects, building fire-adapted communities, and crafting community wildfire protection plans. 

As the summer heat rises, here are some steps residents in at-risk communities may take:

1. Educate Yourself

Being properly informed of the dangers of wildfire can help stoke the fire of preparedness. In the last two decades, we’ve seen the rise of the “Megafire,” which burns incredibly hot, is 100,000+ acres, and sterilizes the land, which takes decades to recover. 

  • 186 Megafires have erupted in the last 18 years
  • Each year, an average of 73,000 wildfires ravage 7 Million acres of private, State, and Federal land in the USA. 
  • In the last 8 years, 63 Million acres have burned in the United States,  twice as many as the period between 1990-1999. 

The rise of the Megafire can be attributed to more fuel (forest growth), extended drought, higher temperatures (the last decade has been the hottest in 1,000 years), illegal campfires, discarded lit cigarettes, and climate change as a whole. With population growth in the foothills across the western United States, there are more and more people at risk for wildfire. Being aware and in the know about just how prevalent and dangerous the current age of forest fires is, can help you prepare. It’s not a matter of “If”, it’s a matter of “When.” 

2. Be Prepared

There are tactics you can take to help your home and property withstand a wildfire, and that begins with making your property a defensible space. Within five feet of your home, it’s good to rely on non-flammable landscaping materials, choose high-moisture-content annual and perennial plants, and consider rocks, rather than mulch, for the landscape near your home. It’s also key to remove dead vegetation or materials that are combustible from the near vicinity of your property. Other tactics like regular lawn mowing, roof and gutter cleaning, tree trimming, and leaf removal can decrease the flammability of your property. Proper spacing of trees (about 30 feet apart) can also prevent a fire from quickly spreading. Boulder County, for example, has a preparedness document available to the public. Rotary – Wildfire Ready is another resource for wildfire awareness and prevention.

3. Get Notifications

Most communities with fire-risk have emergency alert systems that you can sign up for to be in the know about imminent threats via texts, emails, and phone calls. Following your local sheriff’s office, open space organization, and community representatives on social media can also help with the information you obtain. Create a safety profile at Smart911.com and download the CodeRED Mobile Alert public safety app to remain aware of emergencies in your area. 

4. Plan Ahead

It’s imperative to have a family disaster plan in place in case of wildfire. If you have pets, make sure to include them in the plan. Where will you go if a fire threatens your property? What will you bring? What will you leave behind? What are the best evacuation routes for your local area? These are all questions that you’ll need to answer with your plan. Also, always having a “Go Bag” ready, will ensure you have the essentials you need to stay safe and healthy in the time you’ll be evacuated. Items like an extra pair of eyeglasses or contacts, prescription medications, chargers, extra keys, credit cars, cash, family documents, insurance documents, food, water, and other small valuable items should all be included in your Go Bag. 

5. Ready, Set, Go!

“Ready, Set, Go” is the general term used for having a plan in case of wildfire evacuation. Rather than waiting for forced evacuation, initiate your disaster plan early in the event of an impending fire. Prior to evacuation, if time allows, close your windows and doors, move combustible items (outdoor furniture, grills, gas tanks, firewood, etc.) to the center of your lawn or yard, leave your exterior lights on, don’t block water sources like sprinklers and hoses, let someone (neighbors, family) know you’re leaving, and leave your contact information at your front door for emergency personnel. When it’s time to evacuate, be sure to follow your action plan, get to your predetermined location, bring your Go Back, and follow the situation with your local emergency management system. 

CASE STUDIES:

The Camp Fire in Paradise, California

(Known as the deadliest fire in Californian history)

Date: November 8, 2018

Cause: A 100 year old powerline sparked the fire 7.5 miles NE of Paradise

Acreage Burned: 153,336 Acres (Approx size of Chicago)

Timeline: After 6 hours, most of Paradise had been destroyed, 90% of buildings destroyed within 4 hours, Within hours, cell towers were inoperable

Cost: 8.4 Billion in insured losses

Evacuated: 52,000 People

People Killed: 85 People

Lost Population: Over 90%, one year later the population grew to 4,000

Homes Spared: 1,400

Homes Lost: Nearly 14,000 homes, 19,000 buildings overall

Toxic Waste: 3.6M Tons – (Twice the amount of waste than the Twin Towers of 9/11)

ELEPHANT BUTTE FIRE in Evergreen, Colorado

Lightning strikes just as the sun is setting while firefighters tackle a fire on Elephant Butte in Evergreen, Colorado on July 13, 2020. Photo by Amber Pember.

Date: July 13, 2020

Cause: Unknown

Acreage Burned: 50 Acres

People Killed: 0

Evacuated: An order to evacuate of approximately 1,000 Homes

Home Spared: All

Homes Lost: None

Update: As of the morning of July 15th, the fire is 60% contained per the Jeffco County Sheriff’s office, and evacuations have been lifted with a rain the afternoon of July 14th. No reports yet of injuries or burned structures.

Grand Lake Golf Course Fire

After effects of a wildfire in Summer of 2018 in Grand Lake, Colorado. Photo by Amber Pember.

Date: June 28, 2018

Cause: Fuel breaks

Acreage Burned: Approx 20 Acres

People Killed: None

Homes Lost: None

Mitigation: The work of the Colorado State Forest Service along with others worked to complete mitigation projects which prevented further destruction. They treated more than 215 acres of targeted high-risk fuel areas near subdivisions impacted by the fire. The treatments included: removing beetle-kill trees and created fuel breaks to reduce the risk of wildfire.

Evacuated: 300+ homes were ordered to evacuate

RESOURCES:

Map of Wildfires In-Real-Time, Globally

Interactive, Wildfire Map, USA

InciWeb Fire Information System

CodeRED Mobile Alert App – Register

Wildfire Alert Mobile App

Rotary – Wildfire Ready

US Forest Service – Managing Fire

National Fire Protection Association

Colorado Realtors: Property Insurance and Wildfire Preparedness Guide

Colorado Real Estate Information