Back-to-back dry seasons kindles large crowd at Fire Preparedness Workshop
By David Josselyn
On April 27th, a fire preparedness workshop was held at the Gilpin Community Center, hosted by Colorado State University Extension. The free workshop is designed to give the community a greater understanding of their responsibilities and what to expect in the case of an evacuation order due to wildfire. Before the workshop began, the organizers had to quickly set up more chairs in the back of room as people continued to show up for the session. Although the presenters are most likely prepared for wildfire, they were not prepared for a projector malfunction. The intended speaking order was thrown out the window while they waited for a back-up projector to arrive from the courthouse. The workshop featured speakers such as Gilpin County Sheriff Bruce Hartman, GCART representative Larry Sterling, Gilpin Ambulance representative Zane Laubhan, Timberline Fire District representative Kevin Doyle, and Four Mile Fire survivors Tom and Anna Neuer. The meeting covered four main principals: (1) How to prevent and prepare for wildfire; (2) What to do when the fire comes; (3) Communication with family; and (4) Communication with County officials.
Prevention and Preparation
Fire prevention can be done with a little extra work around your property. The primary thing to focus on is removing ground fuel. Wildfire spreads easier and will burn hotter with items on the ground rather than the standing trees. Firewood should be stacked at least 30 feet from the building. Clean your gutters and eaves from the dead pine needles and leaves. The primary cause of in-house fires is stove ash. Kevin Doyle from the Timberline Fire District stated that until other evidence presents itself, the wood stove is their first suspect as the ignition source. Other common causes of wildfires are cooking, heating appliances, outdoor fire pits, and shooting.
To prepare for wildfire, you must first assume it will happen to you. Tom Neuer, survivor of the Four Mile Fire, exclaimed that he can’t count the number of times they have had an evacuation order in the last ten years. Preparations can be made in a few quick steps starting with signing up with Gilpin County’s Code Red emergency system which can be found on the Gilpin County website. Make a communication plan for your family. Do you know where your children will be, how you will communicate with them, how and where you will meet up? In many cases, power goes out during an evacuation, so consider how you will gather what you need without lights, garage doors, and internet. Back up your important documents on a cloud drive and keep paper documents off site. Prepare a ‘go’ bag of items you want to preserve and what will be necessary for you to survive 72 hours outside of your home.
Don’t let forgotten paperwork burn you. Larry Sterling encourages you to sign up your animals with GCART. They can handle animals large and small, indoors and out, whatever you cannot take care of yourself. Make sure your identifying documents have your current address. Irene Shonle warns that you will not be let back in to the fire area if you can’t prove you live or own property there. Make sure your property insurance is up to date and you are happy with the coverage.
When the call comes
The first thing to consider is that the reverse 911 call may not come. Gilpin County has 79 phone lines accessible through local phone service provider CenturyLink, which can quickly get tied up during an emergency. Since electricity is often an issue, some people may never get the call, even though an attempt was made. If you smell smoke or see flames and do not feel comfortable or safe – do not wait – leave! This sentiment was repeated often during the seminar. During the evacuation, remember the airplane oxygen mask principal and always take care of yourself first so you can then safely help others if possible.
Sheriff Bruce Hartman had several hot tips. Smoke can quickly make mid-afternoon look like midnight so leaving the lights on for the emergency responders will make their job easier. Remember that there will be many people who were not prepared who you will be evacuating with, so please don’t panic. The Sheriff was heard to say we are hoping for organized chaos, but “if we have a wildfire, it’s going to be like herding cats.” He added to only pack what’s necessary in your vehicle, and “You don’t necessarily need a 50 pound bag of rice in the back of your car so you can live for a long time.”
Zane Laubhan of Gilpin Ambulance informed us that they have identified 34 people in Gilpin County that aren’t able to evacuate themselves. If you know someone who is blind, bed-ridden, or has no transportation and you are not sure if they are on the list, find out now before the fire season hits. Gilpin has two nursing homes that will be used as temporary evacuation points, but Laubhan said our goal is to have everyone with an alternative evacuation point. Zane also reminded us to remember our medications – a point which was repeated several times during the workshop.
Extinguish your fears
You do not have to fear wildfires if you are prepared. Proper planning and knowing what to do if fire comes to Gilpin County will assuage the panic and stress that can come with it.