By Bill Trimarco
Special to The SUN
Fall is a beautiful time of year in the mountains. The mahogany and oak brush brighten the hillsides with shades of orange and red. Flocks of geese fly in formation across the sky. It seems as though everyone anticipates the event as the aspen turn to gold. And the no-see-ums are nowhere to be found.
The wildfires of spring and summer are usually just a distant memory as we look forward to the first snows. In spite of this feeling of security, wildfires will return next year. They have been doing this for thousands of years in this part of the world. It is part of the natural cycle of life in a semi-arid, low humidity, forested environment that is prone to thousands of lightning strikes annually.
Fall is actually a good time to give some thought to preparing our homes for the next wildfire season. Quite often, October and early November can be quite pleasant and the cooler weather is a good time to get some work done. A lot of us burn firewood. Give some thought to where you put your woodpile. It can be very convenient in the winter to have it stacked on the deck or alongside the house.
Once spring is here, that woodpile can become the kindling that burns your house down. Think about wildfire behavior. Most of the homes lost to wildfire are never touched by the wall of flame that the news media is so fond of filming.
What destroys about 90 percent of the homes are firebrands — small embers that are blown ahead of the fire. Very often, a large wildfire will create a blizzard of embers that swirl ahead of it. It only takes one little ember landing in some chips or duff around your woodpile to start a blaze that can take out your home.
This usually isn’t an issue in the middle of winter and you can stack wood on the deck fairly safely if you move it away from the house come spring. The reality is, how many of us will actually move that woodpile before wildfire season?
For myself, I am finally beginning to realize that I can come up with innumerable reasons to put off doing chores. When I think about potential consequences of my procrastination, I don’t think it is worth risking my home. I decided to keep my woodpile more than 30 feet away from the house. I keep a path through the snow and use a wheelbarrow to bring in a few days worth of wood at a time. It really doesn’t take much effort and I’m actually only loading the wood once from the big pile and then it’s in the house. When I think about it, stacking wood on the deck adds another step and I don’t like to do extra work if I don’t have to. Come spring, my wood pile is still away from the house and I don’t have to think about moving it back off of the deck.
If you are a part-time resident, the way you leave your house in the fall is the way it will be in the spring. You really don’t want to have that firewood stacked on the deck at the beginning of fire season when you are not there to move it, do you?
There are a lot of simple cleanup chores that you can do around your home that could help it survive a wildfire. Fall is a good time to do them. If you would like to learn more, the Colorado State Forest Service has a great brochure available for free at the Pagosa Fire Protection District office at Station One on North Pagosa Boulevard, or you can download a copy at http://csfs.colostate.edu/pdfs/FIRE2012_1_DspaceQuickGuide.pdf.
You can also get information from FireWise at southwestcoloradofires.org.
Remember, what you do now before winter can help you be ready when fire season arrives next spring.