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Wildland fire forum stresses importance of being prepared, minimizing risks

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By Sandy Barnes

The news is not good for residents concerned about the danger of wildland fires, Evergreen Fire Chief Mike Weege said during the Feb. 27 forum on the subject at Evergreen High School.

 

“Everything is looking very, very bad,” Weege said. “That’s why we’re holding this in February.”

While last year ranked as one of the driest in recent history, current snowpack is at only 63 percent of the desired amount. And area reservoirs are at 53 percent of capacity, Weege said.

“A lot of this conversation tonight is about what you can do,” he said. 

Most wildland fires are human-caused, Weege said. Lightning strikes are also a major cause, he added.

“Please call if you see smoke. Don’t hesitate,” he told the audience. 

Weege also emphasized the importance of residents knowing evacuation routes in the event of a fire.

“The key to this is knowing your way out. Stay on the main road,” he advised.

The county’s upgraded emergency-notification system is also an important communication tool for residents. The CodeRED system allows residents to register their land lines and cell phones to receive emergency notifications.

In discussing evacuations levels, Weege said they can change quickly from low to higher priority. Level 1 is a warning to move out livestock and pets, and level 2 is a mandatory evacuation notice. 

Level 3 means that residents need to leave their homes immediately.

“You just need to get into the car and get out,” said Weege.

Doug Saba, life safety educator for Evergreen Fire/Rescue, talked about being prepared in his Ready, Set Go presentation.

Holding up a red suitcase, Saba advised packing it with extra clothing, shoes and important documents in case of an emergency evacuation. He also advised residents to develop an action plan, which they should share with others.

Saba also discussed ways to keep homes safe by creating defensible space around them of at least 30 feet.

“We live here because we love the trees next to our home,” Saba said. 

However, low-hanging branches and flammable conifers near homes add to the danger of houses being consumed in a fire. If a resident doesn’t want to cut down a tree beside his home, he can trim it back and make it part of his defensible space, Saba said.

Shrubs and grasses near homes also need to be trimmed back, he added.

Residents also can decrease the risk of fire by minimizing open burning and using covered chimaeras to burn wood outdoors, Saba said.

“Do what you can do to not be the source of burning the district down,” said Chris Johnson, deputy chief of fire operations.

“Our volunteer fire department is oriented toward zero dollars for wildland fire loss,” Johnson said. “We’re going to do everything we can to save lives and property.”

In determining what can be saved while fighting a wildland fire, Johnson said that the most critical consideration is if a crew can safely work near a home to save it. 

“To me, the most important resource is this group of 90 men and women,” he said of the volunteer firefighters.

 

Contact Sandy Barnes at  HYPERLINK "mailto:sandy@evergreenco.com" sandy@evergreenco.com or call 303-350-1042.