Aspen Times editorial: Don’t be a fool this weekend, take wildland fire precautions seriously
There used to be a popular perception that our beautiful little neck of the woods was immune to the direct ravages of wildfire. That, of course, was a myth.
The Roaring Fork Valley has suffered more than its share of wildfires — from the tragic South Canyon Fire that killed 14 wildland firefighters on Storm King Mountain on July 6, 1994, to the Coal Seam Fire that destroyed 43 structures in and around West Glenwood Springs in 2002 and the Lake Christine Fire that destroyed three homes and threatened countless others in the El Jebel area in 2018, to last summer’s Grizzly Creek Fire that created mayhem for travelers on Interstate 70 that persists to this day with flash floods in the burn scar. This year the Sylvan Lake Fire still burns close to home, just one major valley north of Fryingpan Valley.
That history coupled with the drought conditions that have afflicted much of the valley this year screams “b-e-w-a-r-e.” The message to take precautions cannot be repeated enough, especially with such a transient tourist crowd. The Stage 2 fires restrictions in place across the valley on public and private lands prohibit fires in the backcountry and U.S. Forest Service campgrounds. Even backyard chimineas and charcoal grilling are outlawed. Garfield County saw fit to end its Stage 2 restrictions this week, even though most of the county remains in “exceptional drought” conditions — the highest possible rating — in the U.S. Drought Monitor released July 1.
The recent rains have brought a temporary reprieve to the valley, but it could dry out just as fast.
With the Fourth of July Weekend here, we hope people have the common sense to skip the fireworks, firecrackers and even the sparklers. This isn’t the year to skirt the rules. It also is encouraging to see that the majority of Garfield County commissioners are prepared to stop the insanity of allowing a business to sell fireworks at the intersection of Highway 82 and Cattle Creek Road. It’s too late to stop sales this year due to lack of initiative by county officials, but the commissioners are making noise about a ban on fireworks sales next year. It’s overdue.
In our newsroom, we have been talking for months about how to stress to readers the importance of being prepared by writing the stories about how to do pre-evacuations, what is involved in the fire restrictions conversations and with coverage of the Sylvan Lake Fire. This week, we’ve added a “Wildfire Coverage” landing page to our website (www.aspentimes.com/wildfires) to centrally locate all of our fire coverage as well as county and state resources for residents and visitors.
What we’ve learned is worth repeating. Take the pre-evacuation notices seriously. Don’t panic but talk through a plan in advance with friends and family. Anyone who lived through the mad scramble to flee the midvalley as the Lake Christine Fire jumped the ridge above El Jebel in 2018 knows it is wise to be prepared. We’ve been encouraged to hear people acknowledge they have gotten “to-go” bags ready with essential documents, medicine, clothing and supplies. Everyone should be so prepared.
We also would advise residents and visitors to sign up for alerts from their respective counties in the Roaring Fork Valley. In Pitkin County, the link to sign up is at pitkincounty.com/list.aspx.
In Eagle County, go to member.everbridge.net/1332612387832141/login.
In Garfield County, go to garco911.org/emergency-notification-system/.
There is no denying that climate change is altering our forest ecosystem in western Colorado. In the past decade, our part of the state has suffered through some level of drought in six of the 10 years. Scientists forecast a dire outlook for drier and warmer conditions for our mountains.
We won’t be able to prevent every wildland fire, such as those ignited by lightning strikes, but we are obligated to try to eliminate the human-caused blazes.
The Aspen Times editorial board consists of publisher Samantha Johnston, editor David Krause, managing editor Rick Carroll, reporters Scott Condon and Carolyn Sackariason and copy editor Sean Beckwith.