Residents must get serious about preparing for wildfire in the foothills as local, state and national agencies begin to put more resources and effort toward minimizing risks.
“As residents, it’s our responsibility to learn how to adapt to living with wildfire risk,” Cindy Latham, chair of the foothills’ Rotary Wildfire Ready program, said at a virtual town hall meeting on wildfire preparedness on May 15. “There are all sorts of things we can do to get ready.”
The town hall, sponsored by Jeffco Commissioners Lesley Dahlkemper and Andy Kerr, State Sen. Tammy Story, D-Conifer, and state Rep. Lisa Cutter, D-South Jeffco, focused on what property owners can do to help mitigate the risks and what government can do to help encourage others to begin the daunting task of mitigation in the Wildland-Urban Interface.
What can be done
Residents should start preparing their homes in case of wildfire by removing anything flammable from within five feet of a home including items under decks, pine needles in gutters and more, Latham said. Then it’s time to move out to between five and 30 feet from the home, keeping grass short, and removing highly flammable shrubs and vegetation.
Once that’s done, she said, move even further from the home to about 100 feet, and remove slash, cut tree limbs about 10 feet from the ground and remove trees so there’s about 10 feet between the remaining trees at their widest.
She emphasized that hardening homes to keep embers, which can fly about a quarter of a mile ahead of a fire, from starting to burn is also important.
She also urged everyone to sign up for the CodeRED reverse emergency notification system, noting that it’s difficult to evacuate if you don’t know there’s an emergency. A go-bag should be easily accessible, and families should have an evacuation plan, so they are not caught off-guard in case of an emergency.
“Be aware that it’s up to us as residents to prepare,” she said.
Inter-Canyon Fire Chief Skip Shirlaw urged residents to help with wildfire mitigation because any help they provided helps firefighters if there’s a wildfire in the area.
Inter-Canyon, Elk Creek and Evergreen fire departments have wood-chipping programs and fuels modules, which are crews that perform mitigation on public land, and Jefferson County is starting its slash-collection program in June.
Shirlaw noted that it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit more firefighters, who are the backbone of the departments.
Congressman Joe Neguse told attendees that combating wildfires especially as they become more prevalent requires robust partnerships at the local, state and federal levels. He noted that wildfire preparation should not be a political issue, and he was working in Congress to get bipartisan support for programs to help states increase mitigation efforts to ward off the devastating effects of wildfires.
“Wildfire prevention, mitigation and suppression have become arguably the biggest issue … in the second congressional district,” he said, “and wildfires are going to become more pervasive in Colorado and the Rocky Mountain West. … I’m grateful that the federal government is finally taking this seriously.”
The federal government needs to explore the kind of work needed to create safer conditions, so wildfires don’t put lives at risk, Neguse said, and it needs to make a significant investment in wildfire mitigation.
He noted that a bill has been introduced in Congress to create the equivalent of the 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps, with participants delegated to national parks to help with fire and watershed mitigation and more, calling it a great step forward.
Dan Gibbs, executive director of Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said the state legislature was directing more money toward wildfire mitigation, calling the need for the work urgent.
Colorado Senate Bill 54 would transfer $6 million to the forest restoration and wildfire risk mitigation grant program and put $3 million into the wildfire preparedness fund. There is also a move to bring a Nation Incident Management Team to Colorado to perform a risk assessment and to put more money in to the Colorado Youth Corps to perform more mitigation work at parks and open spaces statewide.