Aspen homeowners at risk for wildfire, fire chief says | AspenTimes.com

Aspen homeowners at risk for wildfire, fire chief says

Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writer

If you’ve got firewood stacked against your house, move it away.

If you’ve got dead weeds, shrubs or trees near your home, remove them.

Keep the grass around your house cut short and well watered, at least until water-use restrictions go into effect.

Starting at the end of the month, call the city or fire department to schedule a visit from an expert on fire reduction techniques.

Those are just a few of the measures homeowners can take to reduce the risk of losing their homes to a wildfire, said Aspen Fire Chief Darryl Grob.

In 22 years as a firefighter here, Grob has never seen conditions as dry as they are this year.

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“What makes this year extraordinary is the lack of precipitation throughout the state,” he said. And the problems that come normally from light snowfall and low spring runoff have been compounded this year by a warm, dry spring.

“Moisture levels in trees are below normal,” Grob said. “In some cases it’s been reported that the moisture content in living trees is below that of kiln-dried lumber.”

Conditions, Grob said, are ripe throughout the state for major conflagrations. There have already been two large fires in the foothills above Denver, one of which was apparently started by a discarded cigarette butt.

“Lightning is something you expect to start fires,” Grob explained. “But the smaller ignition sources that threaten us this year are just an indication of where things are and where they are going.”

The extraordinary conditions led fire officials throughout the state to ban open burning and fireworks this month, something that normally doesn’t occur until late July or early August. Gov. Bill Owens is also considering a statewide ban on fireworks.

Both Grob and the governor are putting their final decision about fireworks and the Fourth of July off for a few weeks. Grob thought it wise to contact the people in charge of the Independence Day show and recommend they consider alternatives to traditional fireworks, such as a laser light show.

For homeowners wondering what they can do to learn more about fire dangers and prevention techniques, the city of Aspen and the Aspen Fire Protection District have a program called Firewise. It is designed to heighten awareness about fire dangers and educate people about fuels management.

City employees and firefighters are scheduled for a training session with John Denison, a forester and expert on fuels mitigation with the Colorado State Forest Service. Once they’ve received training, city employees will be available for local residents who want some advice.

They will help people understand the relation between fine fuels such as grass, heavy fuels in the treetops and ladder fuels that connect the two of them.

“When you’ve got all three present, you have a situation that can lead to conflagration,” Grob said.

The Firewise program offers residents the opportunity to have a trained eye look over their property and suggest measures to reduce the risk that fire poses.

Grob said a few neighborhoods need to be particularly wary of the fire threat. They include Red Mountain, Castle Creek and Mountain Valley, and anywhere else that is south facing, on or at the bottom of a steep slope and surrounded by a heavy concentration of fuels.