A note on personal responsibility | AspenTimes.com

A note on personal responsibility

With the rivers rushing and the grasses green, it’s hard to believe that fire season is just around the corner. But it is, and it could still prove to be a dry summer.Last year marked a turning point for this valley, for Colorado and for the West as fires destroyed thousands of acres of wildland and numerous homes. Locally, two homes were lost in Missouri Heights and 28 in Glenwood Springs as a result of the Panorama and Coal Seam blazes.Let’s not allow it to happen again.Federal land agencies are taking steps in the Roaring Fork Valley and the rest of the Western Slope to avert fire danger in places where public land abuts private development. A public-private brush-thinning effort near the El Jebel Mobile Home Park is a good example of people cooperating to get ahead of the threat.However, homes continue to push farther into previously undeveloped corners of the midvalley, potentially placing people and property in harm’s way. The Basalt & Rural Fire Protection chief said recently that 500 homes in his district are located in high-hazard “red zones.” And one new Garfield County subdivision is being built up a steep and narrow canyon nine miles from Carbondale, from which the bulk of any firefighting effort would be launched.There’s nothing wrong with a home or vacation residence “in the sticks,” as long as owners recognize the danger and take proper responsibility.Midvalley fire chiefs have already signaled their inability to respond effectively from the valley floor to burning homes, for instance, in the northern reaches of Missouri Heights. Basalt fire chief Scott Thompson said, “We told one subdivision recently, `We’re not going to drive down that road into your dead-end cul-de-sac. We’re not going to risk firefighters’ lives.'”Local governments can require developers to provide “defensible space” around new residences, and homeowners associations can place fire-related restrictions in their covenants. Eagle County has even adopted a wildfire code, and hired an enforcement officer. In the end, however, fire safety is a property owner’s responsibility.Given the horrors of last summer, we hope homeowners are using appropriate building materials, landscaping with the wildfire threat in mind and soliciting advice from firefighters. Said Thompson: “We have a person on staff who will go out and give people recommendations.”And, lest we miss another important point, this issue doesn’t concern new residences alone. Many homeowners in remote areas are under no legal obligation to build large driveways for fire trucks or provide water storage on site. Still, we think homeowners themselves must be the first line of defense.We hope homeowners throughout the valley haven’t forgotten the summer of 2002. We hope they’ll take the time to protect themselves (and, indirectly, their neighbors) from wildfire.