Wildfire volatility, make preparedness more difficult and imperative
Natural disasters are nothing new to Colorado. In fact they’re seasonal. From winter and spring blizzards to summer wildfires, there is seemingly something for every season.
Such was the case this summer when Colorado witnessed the most structurally damaging wildfires in the state’s history.
“Everyone who saw the forest after the fire seemed to reference a nuclear bomb,” said video journalist and filmmaker Singeli Agnew in reference to the Black Forest fire.
Of Colorado’s approximately 16 wildfires of 2013, there were three that received national coverage and provoked the evacuation of several highly-populated areas: the Royal Gorge fire, the Black Forest fire and the West Fork fire, which became the second largest fire in Colorado history by area after consuming over 110,000 acres.
The Royal Gorge and Black Forest fires started on June 11 and led to a month of evacuations, media coverage and constant reports of structures being damaged. The Royal Gorge fire burned through 3,200 acres and forced the evacuation of 905 inmates from the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility, while the Black Forest fire became one of the most damaging fires in state history when it consumed almost 14,000 acres, destroyed 511 homes and took two lives.
The recent string of wildfires, however, is no longer an anomaly, but a trend.
According to a Colorado State University report, wildfires in Colorado destroyed less than 100,000 acres per decade from 1960 to 1970. From 1980 to 1990 that total was slightly more than 200,000 acres per decade. For the first decade of the 2000s the total was approximately one million acres.
“Add to that the more than 250,000 acres burned in major wildfires in 2012 and the 150,000 acres burned in 2013 and what we have is a disturbing trend,” said Colorado State Forester Jason Hubbard.
Unlike severe weather that can be forecast for blizzards or flash flooding, wildfires tend to strike without warning and move quickly, which can make preparedness difficult. There are, however ways to prepare.
According to READYColorado — the official state of Colorado preparedness website — preparedness begins with knowing your risk level. Colorado offers a website (www.coloradowildfirerisk.com) that allows residents to identify their wildfire risk by geographical location. An urban dweller for example will receive a “minimal direct wildfire impacts” notice, whereas a resident of El Paso County, on the other hand, will receive a “fire intensity high” notice, which may require “extensive preparedness measures.”
Though they could not prevent the damage from affecting their homes, residents of El Paso County have begun to recover from the Black Forest fire.
According to Micki Trost, the Public Information Officer of the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, President Obama approved Gov. John Hickenlooper’s request for a major disaster declaration related to the Black Forest fire in El Paso County.
Among the assistance given to residents of El Paso County as a result of that Federal funding included: Disaster Unemployment Assistance — assistance for individuals who became unemployed as a result of the disaster; Crisis Counseling; Public Assistance — assistance for emergency work and the repair of damaged facilities; and Hazard Mitigation — created to prevent or reduce any long-term risk to life and property.
While that assistance has helped nearly 250 property owners in the area to receive rebuilding permits from the Pikes Peak Regional Building authority, it does not keep a similar disaster from happening again.
Regardless of geographical location, the Colorado Office of Emergency Management urges all individual and families to follow basic fire preparedness steps such as:
-Build an emergency kit and make a family communications plan
-Know more than one exit route in case you have to evacuate
-Plant fire-resistant shrubs and trees
-Remove leaves and other debris from roof and gutters
-Inspect chimneys at least twice a year and clean them at least once a year
-Install a dual-sensor smoke alarm on each level of your home, especially near bedrooms
-Teach family members how to use a fire extinguisher and show them where it’s located