Guest Editorial: Drought conditions: Wildfire is a serious threat

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    By Bill Trimarco
    Wildfire Adapted Partnership

    I know it is hard to think of this during mud season, but Southwestern Colorado is still in severe to extreme drought conditions. 

    As things start to dry out, we will see wildfires again. There is no way of predicting how many fires we will have or whether or not one will directly impact our community, but we do have a responsibility to ourselves, our families and our neighbors to make preparations for the inevitable. 

    Please don’t assume that it can’t happen here just because it has not happened recently. 

    Wildfire is a serious threat to almost every home in our county. Ignoring that fact will never make it go away. Understanding what the threat is can help us prepare for it.

    Most of our forests have not seen a significant wildfire for over 100 years. That is a lot of time for unchecked growth of potential fuel. Without fire to thin the trees and underbrush, that excessive growth is so close together and reaching from the ground to the tree crowns that huge fires have become the norm.

    A lot of our residents here feel very safe because their homes are nowhere near the forest. Unfortunately, that may not make a difference. Most of the homes lost to wildfire are never directly touched by the flames. No, you did not misread that. Most of the structure loss is caused by the blizzard of embers that blow ahead of the fire, starting spot fires outside of the area that is burning. Those embers can travel over a mile. All it takes is one ember landing on some kindling and you have a new fire start. Usually, you will see hundreds of embers swirling ahead of the fire. If those embers enter your house or find some kindling on or near your house, there is a good chance that your house will catch fire, too. 

    Spring is cleanup time for a lot of us. This is a great time to take steps to safeguard your house, also. Some basic steps can make a big difference.

    • Clean the leaves and pine needles off of the roof.

    • Clean the eaves troughs.

    • Make sure all attic and soffit vents have 1/8-inch metal screening.

    • Chimneys need spark arrestors (they keep birds out of your woodstove, too).

    • Repair any holes or gaps in the siding.

    • Crawl space vents need 1/8-inch metal screening.

    • Rake up leaves and needles within 10 feet of the structure.

    • Remove all combustibles on, under or near wooden decks.

    • Install metal screening under the deck to keep duff and critters out.

    • Maintain decks and stairs. Dried out wood is more flammable than oil stained or painted wood.

    • Use noncombustible fencing within 5 feet of the house. (If you cannot do that, then clear the combustibles from either side of the fence for its entire length.)

    • Move firewood piles at least 30 feet away from structures.

    • Remove any combustible plants within 10 feet of the house.

    • Within 30 feet of the house, mow grasses to a 6-inch height or less.

    • Ornamental junipers and spruce are highly flammable.

    Those are some good spring fire cleanup tips. If you want to learn what else you can do, especially with the vegetation within 100 feet of your home, check with Wildfire Adapted Partnership at (970) 385-8909. Register for its E-News at wildfireadapted.org and sign up for a free site assessment and the popular chipper rental rebate program.