Officials ready fire plans | AspenTimes.com

Officials ready fire plans

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Local fire officials have established emergency evacuation plans should a wildfire ignite during this record-breaking dry season.

After meeting Wednesday with the fire chiefs from Aspen, Basalt, Snowmass and Carbondale, Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis said an early warning system was agreed upon for worst-case fire scenarios this summer.

“We acknowledge that in a rapidly moving wildfire, evacuation is a critical component to life safety, and we spent a lot of time addressing the challenges of evacuating population clusters which might be at risk,” Braudis said.

Specifically, the four fire districts in Pitkin County will be using a “reverse 911” system to notify residents that may have to be evacuated.

An automated message might warn residents of a wildfire a certain distance away, ask locals to evacuate and to notify any neighbors that may have missed the phone call.

Although the system is “very expensive,” Braudis said a Boulder-based company, Entrado, has offered free use of the product for this fire season to most counties near wildfire hot spots.

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“It’s a good tool for a large-scale evacuation,” Braudis said. “Whether we purchase it in the future is up to the funds we have available.”

Braudis said the importance of evacuation strategies is one of the things local officials learned while observing and helping out with the Glenwood Springs fire.

“We’ve had a fire plan every year since I’ve been sheriff,” he said. “This year our plan just needs to be dusted off and ratcheted up a notch or two. Any work we do now is going to help us later, and our next threat will be afternoon thunderstorms.”

Lightning strikes may cause natural wildfires, but “human starts” also remain a serious threat to the dry wild lands. Braudis said aggressive enforcement of the statewide ban on open fires will continue, and he strongly encourages the public to report any violations.

“This whole community has to work together to prevent any human starts of fires,” he said. “There is nothing we can do about lightning, but as a community we can do everything about human starts. I’m enlisting every resident and visitor of the community to do everything they can about reporting human starts.”

Under the ban, all fires are illegal except on propane and liquid-fuel stoves, and charcoal briquette fires in backyard or patio barbecues. Fireworks of all kinds are also banned.

Similarly, the state regulations for cigarette smokers are specific about where a cigarette can and can’t be extinguished. Braudis said smoking is banned except in a closed vehicle or building, at a “developed recreational site” or in an area that is barren in a three-foot diameter.

John Mele, assistant chief with the Snowmass fire department, said firefighters have responded to two reports of cigarettes extinguished in flowerpots and window boxes, where peat moss and wood chips quickly burst into flames.

“That makes our concern even stronger – if you throw out your cigarette butt along the highway where the grasses are, it could develop into a really dangerous situation,” he said. “We’re trying to get the word out that people should put out cigarettes in their cars, not flick them out the windows.”

Mele said he’s also noticed that catalytic converters on some vehicles can start fires in grasses when they park alongside the road.

Under the state fire ban, any violation is a class-three misdemeanor, and comes with a $750 fine and the possibility of six months in jail.

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com.]

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