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Something to think about

With the annual fire season upon us, there has been a somewhat spirited discussion in our office about one of the major issues associated with wildfires. The main topic has been the order and enforcement of disaster evacuations.

While no one will argue that our late-season snow and our cool, wet spring has been a blessing to all, there is a potential downside. With more moisture comes more growth of vegetation. Furthermore, with more growth comes the possibility of more fuel for fires if the summer turns dry and hot.

It is ironic that, even as damaging as last year’s fires were, it was considered a below-average year for wildfires. The National Weather Service is predicting that this year we will have an average to slightly above average number of lightning storms, which means the potential for even more fires.

The issue is this: Do the sheriff and his deputies have the legal authority in emergency situations to order the evacuation of citizens and enforce that order? The answer is yes!

In June of 2002, Attorney General Salazar issued a legal opinion stating that the authority to enforce these laws is found in Colorado statutes and the power of the government to protect the safety and welfare of the community in disaster emergency circumstances.

Any decision to issue an emergency evacuation order will be made only after consultation with emergency management and fire management personnel.

In times of catastrophic wildfires, we must be concerned with the safety and welfare of not only the residents in the area affected, but also with the safety of those charged with the duty to attack, and put out such fires.

My concern is that in the event of an emergency evacuation will we have the time and manpower to properly address those instances when an individual, for whatever reason, decides to refuse the evacuation order. Probably not.

No matter how well rehearsed and thought out an evacuation plan is, if and when it happens, things will be chaotic. We must consider the safety of the general public outweighing the safety of an individual. If a homeowner refuses an evacuation order, then quite frankly, they are on his or her own.

If the situation escalates to the point that firefighter and rescue personnel must retreat, no one will be ordered into an area to help rescue someone who has decided to stay.

No home or castle or piece of property is worth putting the lives of our loved ones in the face of extreme danger. We only ask that if someone is contemplating refusing such an order, when rescue personnel first contact them, they should have available information regarding relatives and family notification.

Sheriff Joseph D. Hoy

Eagle County


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