As we saw with the Sunshine Canyon Fire last month, the threat of wildfires is an unfortunate reality of living in Boulder. With its arid climate and largely forested ecosystem, Colorado and our county are natural risks for unpredictable, damaging fires. However, while we can’t always control when and where a wildfire is going to occur, what we can control are our responses to it. While it’s certainly not pleasant to think about the possibility of a wildfire affecting you and your property, the truth is that being prepared and having a plan in place for if that occasion does arise makes for more efficiency and, most importantly, safety.
Dry air, hot temperatures, and high winds, all of which we experience for much of the year in Boulder, are driving factors that can contribute to the rapid growth of a wildfire, and the county has seen its share of these natural disasters even just in recent history. In September 2010, the Fourmile Canyon Fire between Boulder and Gold Hill destroyed over 150 homes and structures. In July 2016, the Cold Springs Fire destroyed eight homes in the Nederland area and forced hundreds of evacuations, decimating properties and much of the wooded area around the city. While no structures were lost during the Sunshine Canyon Fire just outside Boulder’s city limits this March, the blaze forced the evacuation of over 400 foothill homes and put over 800 more on pre-evacuation alert.
So what can you do to prepare both your property and yourself for a nearby wildfire or that evacuation order? From baby steps you can take right now to large-scale structural strategies, there are a wealth of local resources available to help you establish your role in wildfire mitigation and evacuation readiness.
Many homes in Boulder County are in areas the Colorado State Forest Service calls the wildland-urban interface, where structures are intermixed with natural, forested wildland that can serve as fuel for wildfires. If this is the case for your home, think about the structure’s defensible space, the space around your home that can be purposefully and strategically cleared to up your property’s chances of surviving a nearby wildfire. This includes managing vegetation, creating non-combustible perimeters around structures, storing piles of wood at least 30 feet away from buildings, keeping decks and the areas below them free of pine needles and other flammables, and keeping gutters and rooflines clear. Boulder County offers a Wildfire Mitigation Checklist, and local organizations like Wildfire Partners offer to assess your home and work with you to make it more resistant and safe.
Being prepared for if one of the worst case scenarios with a wildfire occurs, the loss of property, is also essential in helping to handle the recovery process. Boulder County suggests checking your insurance policy and making sure you aren’t under-insured, allowing for more adequate rebuilding after a disaster. Creating and keeping a current home inventory, supplemented by photos, and storing it digitally, nullify the nearly impossible task of trying to remember all your possessions and their value after the trauma of losing property. Keeping important documents and valuables off-site from your home, such as in a safety deposit box, can also help ease the recovery process.
Being notified that you need to evacuate due to a wildfire or are on pre-evacuation notice is a hugely stress-inducing event that, if you aren’t prepared, can trigger extreme confusion and panic. Have an action plan in place that you and your family have rehearsed that includes designated meeting locations, a communication plan, and the creation of a disaster supply kit in case you need to evacuate immediately. Break your evacuation plan into time frames and know what you need to do if you’re given two hours to evacuate, one hour, ten minutes, and so on. Making these lists and having these plans in place means you won’t be scrambling and won’t forget anything important if the call ever comes.
You can also take steps right now to get you just a little more prepared for if and when the next regional wildfire occurs. Download the Waze app on your phone which, during the Sunshine Canyon Fire, contained real time road closure information in the surrounding area. Follow the Boulder Office of Emergency Management on Twitter and their other social media channels to stay informed, and ensure that your cell phone is set up for emergency 911.
Lastly, always be wary of, respect, and adhere to any and all weather warnings, rules, and regulations related to fire hazards.
Wildfires are unpredictable, but your response to them doesn’t have to be. Check out the resources available on the website for Team Rubicon, a veteran-led disaster relief organization (scroll down to Knowledge Bomb #41 on “Wildfire Safety”). For additional information, peruse the resources available on the Wildfire Partners and Boulder County websites.