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We live in paradise. Everywhere you turn, life in the mountains delights. Whether it is catching sight of the local elk herd, marveling at a glorious Colorado sunset over the stunning mountains or …
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We live in paradise.
Everywhere you turn, life in the mountains delights. Whether it is catching sight of the local elk herd, marveling at a glorious Colorado sunset over the stunning mountains or just appreciating the open space and cleaner air we enjoy compared to the denizens of much of the Denver metro area, it is undeniable that living where we do is a privilege.
But with just one tiny spark, life here on the edge where civilization and the wildlands commingle, can become a lot less like paradise, and a lot more like Paradise, California.
In November 2018, that mountain community surrounded by pine forest was practically wiped off the face of the map by the swift-moving Camp Fire. The fire roared through the town at an estimated 300 feet per minute and left little in its wake. 85 people died. Billions in property damage. A year later, more than 90% of the residents had not returned. There was nothing to return to.
We could easily be next.
Insurance analysis ranks the Evergreen/Conifer are as the most in danger of a catastrophic wildfire in the state. In fact, the potential for loss of life ranks in the top 10 for the nation.
Of course those in harm’s way also includes swaths of Clear Creek County residents in places like Old Squaw Pass and Brooke Forest. Clear Creek’s own county analysis shows nearly every residential area outside of Idaho Springs, Empire and Georgetown as being at high or extreme risk of wildfire.
Fire experts are very clear in their warnings. It isn’t a matter of if there will be other close-by fires, but a matter of when.
This week we mark the anniversary of the Elephant Butte Fire. It was kept small. No one died. No buildings burned. But it was so close, so visible from all over Evergreen, that for many it served as a wake-up call to do more in terms of wildfire mitigation and emergency planning.
We have heartfelt gratitude for the work of our area firefighting agencies who helped contain the Elephant Butte Fire, and are ever-preparing for the next blaze too. But we know that Mother Nature can be fickle, and that with just a slight change in the weather, that next spark might not be so easy to extinguish.
We applaud those who have heeded the wake-up call. Folks like Rotary Wildfire Ready, who have done so much to educate the public about the dangers of wildfire and how to mitigate and prepare for the next conflagration. Folks like Jefferson County Commissioner Lesley Dahlkemper and the rest of the Jefferson County Wildfire Risk Reduction Task Force, who have identified the biggest barriers and opportunities to keep catastrophe at bay.
Hard choices lie ahead for mountain communities in places like western Jefferson County and Clear Creek County. We continue to develop in this Wildland Urban Interface even as water grows scarce and our narrow roads grow busier. Meanwhile the cost of fuel mitigation and firefighting only climbs.
For all of us, it will take significant work, both in our backyards but also in our local politics, to do the hard work to make those tough choices about growth, resource allocation, water conservation, taxes and prescribed burns.
Otherwise, we are headed for a paradise lost.
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