Wildfire still a threat in valley | AspenTimes.com

Wildfire still a threat in valley

Basalt firefighters hope wildfire threat remains on the minds of homeowners in coming months despite waking up to a few inches of snow on Wednesday, the first day of May.

“The fire season may be shorter than it was last season because of the spring precipitation,” said Basalt Deputy Fire Chief Jerry Peetz. Last year conditions were already dangerously dry in Colorado in May and major wildfires broke out in the Front Range. Although it’s not as dry now, there is still a good chance there will be a high wildfire threat this year, according to firefighters. Conditions were so dry for so long prior to above average rain and snowfall over the last month or so, Peetz said.

In the worst-case scenario, the recent moisture makes the grasses take off on a growth spurt only to have the ground fuels dry up later in the summer. That could add fuel for wildfires.

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 fire departments have prepared a local program modeled on the “Ready, Set, Go!” national initiative prepared by the International Association of Fire Chiefs. The first local program will be held 6 to 8:30 p.m. today at the Basalt Fire Department’s station 42 in El Jebel.

Peetz said there will be a short presentation by Basalt Fire Chief Scott Thompson, then attendees will break into small groups to discuss specific issues. One small group will focus on the danger posed by wind-blown embers and the need for defensible space around structures. Eagle County’s wildfire mitigation expert and an official from the Colorado State Forest Service will present it.

The second small group will be evacuation procedures, presented by Eagle County Sheriff’s Office and Basalt Police Department.

The third small group will focus on evacuation preparedness with advice from the Red Cross.

The fourth small group will feature Basalt firefighters discussing their general response tactics during wildfires.

The last small group will feature Eagle and Pitkin County communications departments signing people up for emergency alerts.

Each small group will take roughly 20 minutes, Peetz said. It is free and open to the public. All residents of the Basalt and Rural Fire Protection District are encouraged to attend. Other fire departments in the Roaring Fork and Eagle valleys will hold programs later this spring.

Peetz said his sense from talking to representatives of homeowners’ associations is that people still realize the wildfire threat could be high this summer.

Despite the recent wet weather, the long-range forecast is for hot and dry conditions for much of Colorado. Pitkin and Eagle counties were rated in “extreme” drought from early January until mid-March, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Pitkin and Eagle counties are now considered in “moderate” drought.


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