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June 12, 2013
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Roaring Fork Valley’s fire departments offer aid

The fire departments of Snowmass Village and Carbondale sent engines with crews Wednesday to help battle the Black Forest Fire burning near Colorado Springs.

A fire engine equipped to navigate rough terrain or protect structures departed from Carbondale at 9 a.m. with a crew of three, according to Carbondale Fire Chief Ron Leach. A similar engine with a crew of three left Snowmass Village at about 6 a.m., according to Snowmass Village Fire Chief Steven Sowles.

Basalt already dispatched a fire engine with a crew of three to California last week to help fight the Powerhouse Fire, according to Basalt Fire Chief Scott Thompson. It didn’t have any other equipment or crew to spare to help battle the fires that exploded in Colorado on Tuesday.

The Black Forest Fire north of Colorado Springs had burned 92 homes as of Wednesday afternoon, according to the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office. As many as 8,000 acres had been charred.

Thompson and Leach said media images they saw of the fire Tuesday night show the danger posed by burning embers scattered by heavy winds. Thompson said even homes that didn’t have any fuels around them still burned because wind-whipped embers ignited some portion of the house, such as wood shake shingles, a wooden deck or a firewood pile stacked against a house.

The danger posed by burning embers has forced the Basalt Fire Department to reconsider how many homes within its sprawling district are at high risk for wildfires. About 10 years ago, officials thought the number was about 500. Now, Thompson estimates it is two or three times that amount because so much more is known about fire behavior and how embers spread fires.

Leach said homeowners need to “think like an ember” when they undertake fire prevention. Woodpiles should be covered with a tarp. Gutters should be cleared out. Cheap sheetrock should be stored on properties and used to cover wooden decks in case of wildfire.

“It could save your house,” he said.

The fire departments in the Roaring Fork Valley are teaming to educate homeowners on how to prepare themselves and their property for the risk of wildfire and what to expect if the fire season is severe. The local effort is modeled after the “Ready, Set, Go!” national program. Presentations already have been made in Basalt and Aspen. Thompson said another would be offered in Basalt if demand warrants.

Homeowners haven’t been too concerned about wildfires in the Roaring Fork Valley this year because of wet conditions in April and May, according to Aspen Fire Chief Rick Balentine.

“My biggest concern right now is people’s complacency,” he said.

Attitudes are changing with conditions. Hot, dry weather is sucking the moisture out of grasses, vegetation and trees. That boosts the fire danger and captures attention.

Sowles said he suspects more people in the Roaring Fork Valley will be interested in fire-mitigation tips because of numerous wildfires burning in Colorado. Other fires were near Royal Gorge Bridge and in Rocky Mountain National Park.

“That’s going to get people’s attention,” Sowles said.

A presentation for homeowners on wildfire preparedness will be given at the Snowmass Village Fire Station at 6 p.m. Wednesday. One will be given at the Carbondale Fire Station at 6 p.m. June 25. The sessions are free and open to anyone.

All the fire chiefs said their departments welcome calls from homeowners from within their districts seeking advice on how to reduce the risk of wildfire on their property. Thompson said the Basalt department is getting one or two calls per day from homeowners looking for help. One or more firefighters will visit a property and offer advice on how to reduce fire risk.

The current tip is to cut grasses. While it might still be green now, it will soon be brown and provide good fuel for a wildfire, Thompson said.

“The fuels are starting to dry out rapidly,” Balentine said.

Leach said it is particularly important for people to avoid activities that can spark a wildfire as the fuels become drier in the Roaring Fork Valley.

“What’s going to cause a wildfire in our area is a stupid human mistake,” Leach said.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Jun 13, 2013 05:01PM Published Jun 14, 2013 02:51PM Copyright 2013 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.