Fire news and information from around the region

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Periodically we’ll post links to information and news about fire prevention and education here on this page.

  • More Californians refusing to evacuate despite fire danger 22 August 2016

    A wildfire quickly turned into an inferno and within hours had ravaged pine forests near the California ski town of Wrightwood — but only half of its more than 4,500 residents heeded mandatory evacuation orders. Officials say it was another example of a disturbing trend: Instead of heading for safety, many homeowners are staying put and dialing 911 for help. San Diego fire Capt. Robert Allen said fire engines have been stuck behind vehicles of people who have waited to the last second to leave. “I can understand their feelings but at the same time it creates a hazard,” he said. “Not only do we have a fire to fight — now we have to save lives.”

 

When Pat Telleria saw the wind-driven flames sweeping across the grass foothills toward his dream home, he picked up the phone. In the middle of the night, he called 911. “I’m next. It’s coming right at me!’ he told dispatchers. “And they said, ‘You’re out of luck. All the resources are allocated.'” That’s when the wall of fire came at them “and it was humming.” Telleria’s home near Boise stands on the edge of the wilderness in a landscape that offers pastoral serenity but is also susceptible to wildfires. Some 44 million homes have been built in similar areas of the lower 48 states, making the properties expensive to protect from flames and draining resources that might otherwise be used to defend forests, rangeland and wildlife habitat. In 2015, the U.S. Forest Service set aside more than half of its budget for fire suppression. In one week in August, it spent $243 million fighting fires, much of it to protect homes. By September, all the firefighting money had been spent, and the agency began using money initially intended for recreation and other projects. When developers put up homes or entire subdivisions in especially precarious locations, wildfire bosses get exasperated. “It’s very frustrating for those folks,” said John Freemuth, a Boise State University professor and public lands expert who works with federal land managers. “No one would ever say it publicly. They would never say, ‘You …. never should have built here, and we’re not going to risk lives to protect it.'”

Jean and Michael Blaisdell have thinned trees within 10 feet of their driveway, a third of a mile in length, and replaced their old roof with fire-resistant, stone-clad steel shingles. They collected their most important paperwork, from birth certificates to insurance packets, in a single file in case they are evacuated and need to leave quickly. Officials praise the efforts of homeowners such as the Blaisdells and renew their pleas for all residents, especially those in heavily wooded areas, to take measures to make their houses more fire safe. Mitigation not only increases the chance a structure will survive a wildfire, but helps firefighters do their jobs.

I keep what survivalists call a “Bug-Out Bag.” This is a backpack containing copies of necessary house, insurance and identification documents (the originals of which are kept in a safety deposit box), also medications, toiletries, CDs containing copies of my work and prized family photos, and emergency cash. I keep the bag close to my front door, and take it on the road with me when I am away from home.

There are several easy steps we can take to help reduce risk and inhibit the spread of wildland fires:

  • Create a defensible space. That is defined as at least a 30-foot buffer zone of reduced vegetation around a home to mitigate the effects of an advancing fire.
  • Reduce flammable brush and pine needles around your home and under nearby trees.
  • Prune or remove trees.
  • Keep grass and weeds cut low.
  • Clear woodpiles and building materials away from your home.
  • Keep your yard, gutters and roof clean.
  • Keep address signs visible so that fire service people can easily locate you if you need them.
  • Choose fire-resistant building materials (and lawn furniture).
  • Properly dispose of yard debris. (Note: Some of it may be recyclable.)

To protect your family, prepare ahead of time for the possibility of having to evacuate. Develop a family disaster plan and rehearse it. Know what you need to take with you, and what else you’d like to take if time and safety allow. Please visit ColoradoProjectWildfire.com for additional tips and resources.

The Boulder Fire Department tested a new app called Android Team Awareness Kit that they hope will help them better coordinate efforts to fight large wildfires and communicate with crews on the ground. The app, designed by Par Government Assistance Corp., is based on military technology designed to track personnel and feed them geographical information in real time. Using the technology, firefighters would be able to see a map of the area, the location of crews on the ground and even live video sent from aerial support to give them a bigger and better picture of the wildfire.

Large, severe fires in the West followed by increasing drought conditions as the planet warms are leading to lower tree densities and increased patchiness in high-elevation forests, according to a new study involving the University of Colorado Boulder. “This study is a crystal ball of sorts that helps us to see what forest recovery may look like in the future following severe fires,” said CU-Boulder postdoctoral researcher Brian Harvey. “These forests are well adapted to severe fires, but the net result of larger fires and warmer temperatures will likely be a decrease in tree density, a reduction in forest extent, and more forest patchiness in high-elevation areas.” – See more at: http://www.colorado.edu/news/releases/2016/03/21/fires-drought-changing-climate-affecting-high-altitude-forests#sthash.eqLkzAJv.dpuf

Many of the people facing the worst danger due to overgrown lots are the least likely to participate in efforts to Firewise their homes — to protect themselves and their neighbors.

[caption id="attachment_2599" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]U.S. Army pilots and crew members with the 2nd General Support Aviation Battalion, 4th Aviation Regiment, 4th Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, go into thick smoke to release water over the burning fires during a bambi bucket mission at Black Forest, Colo., June 12, 2013. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jonathan C. Thibault/Released) Credit Flickr / Creative Commons U.S. Army pilots and crew members with the 2nd General Support Aviation Battalion, 4th Aviation Regiment, 4th Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, go into thick smoke to release water over the burning fires during a bambi bucket mission at Black Forest, Colo., June 12, 2013. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jonathan C. Thibault/Released)
Credit Flickr / Creative Commons[/caption]

The new aerial fire fighting research center in Rifle opened this week with a ribbon cutting.  Melissa Lineberger is the director of the Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting, and recently spoke with KDNK’s Amy Hadden Marsh about her experience with wildfires and her vision for the program. “Some of the initial projects that I’ve already started doing research on [are] night operations. Right now we’re not doing bucket drops from the air at night on fires because 30-40 years ago there were some high profile helicopter crashes when they were trying to fly at night.  But night-vision goggle technology has come a long way.  People have been scared to re-implement [night-time aerial bucket drops] because of the safety issue.  So what we want to do is look into the safety, talk to the folks who are doing night flying currently with the National Guard and with some other organizations, and try to figure our how we can get night operations on our fires here in Colorado.  There’s a lot of benefits to fighting fire at night, the smoke lays down, and there’s just opportunities for us to attack those fires 24 hours a day from the air.”

Governor Hickenlooper was at the Rifle-Garfield County Airport to “welcome in” the new Colorado Division of Fire Prevention Control Center of Excellence. This center is the only one of its kind in the world. It aims to provide a holistic solution to problems faced in the fire fighting world. “This is going to be where innovations for firefighting happen for decades to come,” said Gov. Hickenlooper. The center acts as a communication hub, taking research and turning it into efficient, effective, and sustainable aerial fire-fighting capabilities.

As wildfire season quickly approaches in the Western Slope, homeowners play a big role in helping firefighters by making sure their home is safe and accessible for fire officials to enter in case of an emergency. “It’s just not unusual for us in Colorado to have wildland fires that involve the wildland and urban interface – it’s very common,” said Dave Toelle, Regional Fire Management Officer for Colorado Division of Fire Prevention & Control. Toelle says preparing your home for wildfire season should be a top priority. “Create a defensible space, doing things like trimming the grass, limbing up tree branches, and things that might be down touching the ground, cleaning out their gutters.” Creating that defensible space, Toelle says, includes things like: getting rid of old vegetation near your home that can act as a fuel for a fire, and once fire catches it could quickly spread.

[caption id="attachment_2571" align="aligncenter" width="770"]The Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs, Colo., destroyed 346 homes in 2012. Shutterstock The Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs, Colo., destroyed 346 homes in 2012. Shutterstock[/caption]

Colorado will spend $1.2 million over the next two years on a “revolutionary” fire prediction system that uses atmospheric weather data to predict the behavior of wildfires up to 18 hours in advance. Gov. John Hickenlooper signed House Bill 1129 on Wednesday afternoon at a fire station in Arvada, implementing one of several bills lawmakers drafted in response to wildfires in El Paso County and elsewhere. “This bill will predict the intensity and the direction of fires 12 to 18 hours ahead of time. That is really important so we know where to direct our planes, the aircraft we had a bill for last year, and our firefighters,” said Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp, D-Arvada, who introduced the bill. “This is really revolutionary.”

[caption id="attachment_2573" align="aligncenter" width="701"]Airmen from the Air Force Reserve Command’s 302nd Airlift Wing and their U.S. Forest Service partners wrapped up their annual Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System training May 18. The four days of currency and re-currency certification ensured the Wing’s 10 MAFFS aircrews, support personnel and MAFFS-equipped C-130s are ready when requests for assistance are made by the U.S. Forest Service through the National Interagency Fire Center. The aircrews flew 23 sorties and performed 119 training drops in remote target sites in the Pike-San Isabel National Forest, Bureau of Land Management land and military ranges. Airmen from the Air Force Reserve Command’s 302nd Airlift Wing wrapped up their annual firefighting training May 18.[/caption]

Airmen from the Air Force Reserve Command’s 302nd Airlift Wing and their U.S. Forest Service partners wrapped up their annual Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System training May 18. The four days of currency and re-currency certification ensured the Wing’s 10 MAFFS aircrews, support personnel and MAFFS-equipped C-130s are ready when requests for assistance are made by the U.S. Forest Service through the National Interagency Fire Center. The aircrews flew 23 sorties and performed 119 training drops in remote target sites in the Pike-San Isabel National Forest, Bureau of Land Management land and military ranges.

[caption id="attachment_2557" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Seasonal wildfire outlook for Colorado and nearby states, as of May 11, 2015. Credit: Rocky Mountain Coordination Center Seasonal wildfire outlook for Colorado and nearby states, as of May 11, 2015. Credit: Rocky Mountain Coordination Center[/caption]

Recent rains have helped to dampen the wildfire forecast for the Rocky Mountains. Storms in April and May brought much-needed moisture to the region after a warm, dry March. The May 11, 2015 seasonal wildfire outlook released by the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center says most of the region has an average fire potential. A big swath of Colorado’s Front Range, extending east into Nebraska and Kansas, comes in a bit below average.

Above-average rainfall in late April and early May helped reduce the wildfire danger in the region, effectively putting things back on course for a typical year, said Doug Paul, fire mitigation and education specialist with the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit. An average year in Paul’s jurisdiction, which spans from the Utah border to the Eisenhower Tunnel and includes six Colorado counties, is about 200 wildfires on federal lands. With California and much of the West continuing to experience severe droughts, fire mitigation here at home becomes increasingly important because federal and state resources are allocated to the areas that need them the most, Paul said.

Colorado’s firefighters see climate change as a major contributor to the increasing intensity and destructiveness of wildfires. That’s the message in “Unacceptable Risk,” a short documentary that says the state’s fire season has lengthened to seven months and fire departments fear losing lives on the front lines.

A tangle of congressional squabbles, federal bureaucracy and outside interests often stand in the way of healthier forests, a group of state and county leaders told U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner during a wildfire summit in Colorado Springs on Saturday. The 30-person group of wildfire experts, land managers and county commissioners voiced concerns over fire mitigation and flood prevention projects, which often require federal backing and encounter obstacles in Washington. Both senators pledged to help remove some of those obstacles this year, following recommendations presented in a report on Saturday. Bennet, a Democrat, commissioned the report in 2014 and returned to Colorado this year to hear the findings – some of which were new, while others pointed to long-standing problems with federal funding. Bennet invited Gardner, a Republican who was elected in November, to join him at Saturday’s summit. The senators picked an ideal day to visit a county that has relied on federal aid to help clean up from post-fire floods. El Paso County on Saturday was a whirlwind of hailstorms, winter weather watches and tornado warnings, and heavy rains tested the strength of several federally funded debris nets and sediment basins around the Pikes Peak region. After the summit, Bennet toured Gen. William Palmer’s Glen Eyrie castle, which presides over a massive, reinforced stream bed backed up with a metal debris net at the mouth of Queens Canyon.

[caption id="attachment_2478" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]The High Park Wildfire located approximately 15 miles west of Fort Collins, CO has consumed over 65, 738 acres of forest and grassland with approximately 189 homes destroyed. Credit: U.S. Forest Service The High Park Wildfire located approximately 15 miles west of Fort Collins, CO has consumed over 65, 738 acres of forest and grassland with approximately 189 homes destroyed.
Credit: U.S. Forest Service[/caption]

The Rocky Mountain region fire outlook [.pdf] is not as bad as that of 2012 – at least not yet. For those with short memories, that was the year of the High Park and Waldo Canyon fires, some of the largest and most destructive in Colorado history. Last year, 2014, was relatively calm, following a large snowpack and a cool, wet early summer.

[caption id="attachment_2472" align="aligncenter" width="620"]Smike billows up from the prescribed burn on Basalt Mountain Sunday. This view is looking north with Spring Park Reservoir in the foreground. Credit: U.S. Forest Service Smike billows up from the prescribed burn on Basalt Mountain Sunday. This view is looking north with Spring Park Reservoir in the foreground. Credit: U.S. Forest Service[/caption]

A prescribed burn went so well Sunday that it charred almost the entire targeted acreage of national forest in the midvalley and sent so much smoke billowing into the air that some people assumed it was out of control, White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said Monday. The fire was intentionally set on national forest and Bureau of Land Management property on the lower slopes of Basalt Mountain, above the populated areas of Missouri Heights. The goal was to burn 1,200 acres. The preliminary estimate is that it burned 1,100 acres, Fitzwilliams said. Veteran federal firefighters with Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management were amazed that conditions were so dry, according to Fitzwilliams. They said they have rarely seen spring conditions where the fire intensity was similar to fall, when the ground and vegetation dries out.

Wildfire experts are predicting that Colorado will experience an average to above average wildfire season this year. About a dozen agencies gathered at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora on Friday morning to participate in aerial wildfire training.

Colorado’s natural landscape has withstood forest fires, beetle infestation and rising temperatures over the last century. Satellite images from NASA offer a unique glimpse at how our corner of the planet has changed. Drag the slider back and forth to see the change, and check out NASA’s full “Images of Change” gallery here. 

The National Weather Service in Boulder is again Wednesday – for the third straight day – calling for high fire danger for much of southern Colorado, including all of the southeastern plains. In the Denver area, the weather service has enacted a red flag warning between noon and 8 p.m. for Elbert, Douglas and Lincoln counties. Lake, Chaffee, Fremont and Teller counties are also under a red flag warning all of Wednesday into the night. The weather service’s Pueblo office says a red flag warning is in effect from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. for El Paso, Huerfano, Las Animas, Crowley, Otero, Kiowa, Bent, Prowers and Baca counties. “Dry, warm and gusty southwest winds and dry conditions will have the potential to produce large fire growth and rapid fire spread, particularly on open rangeland,” the weather service said in a bulletin. A wildfire in Teller County on Tuesday afternoon ballooned to about 100 acres and led to mandatory evacuations for two rural subdivisions near Cripple Creek, according to The Gazette. At least 70 homes were evacuated before the grass fire was surrounded by emergency crews.

[caption id="attachment_2458" align="alignleft" width="960"]teller county wildfire 2015 april 8 colorado springs gazette Chris Christenson uses binoculars to look out at a grass fire burning in his neighborhood south of Florissant Tuesday, April 7, 2015. Heavy winds fueled the fire, which prompted mandatory evacuations of homes in the area. No structures were burnt. (Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette)[/caption]
A handful of Teller County families were asked not to return to their homes Tuesday evening because of a grass fire that got too close to the residences for the comfort of crews fighting the fire. The Western Hills fire grew to about 100 acres, and at least a dozen homes were evacuated Tuesday afternoon as a precaution. Evacuation orders were lifted around 7:30 p.m. as the fire calmed, but Sheriff Mike Ensminger said a few families were asked to refrain from returning home because the fire had gotten “real close” to the houses and crews saw them as vulnerable.

The fire danger is high across much of Colorado partly because of a dry air mass in place across most areas of the Southwest. The dry weather combined with warm weather and expected strong winds led to the posting of red-flag warnings south of the Palmer Divide and across southern and northwestern Colorado on Monday. Fire danger also is high in New Mexico, Arizona, Kansas and the Texas Panhandle.

[caption id="attachment_2442" align="aligncenter" width="654"]CREEDE, CO-June 27, 2013: Fire burns out of control at the Papoose Fire, June 27, 2013. The wildfire in southwestern Colorado continues to have potential for growth. (Photo By RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post) CREEDE, CO-June 27, 2013: Fire burns out of control at the Papoose Fire, June 27, 2013. The wildfire in southwestern Colorado continues to have potential for growth. (Photo By RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)[/caption]

Wildfire follows hot wind and drought — but not the ravaging of mountain pine beetles, a new study found. University of Colorado scientists investigated western U.S. forests that burned over the past decade and compared them with forests infested with beetles. They concluded that beetle-killed forests are no more at risk of burning than healthy forests. The beetle outbreaks, which since 1996 have turned 15 million acres of green forest gray from Alaska to Arizona, don’t drive wildfire, said University of Colorado at Boulder ecologist Sarah Hart, author of the study, which is poised for publication this week. “Forest fuels may get drier as a result of fuels being dead from insect infestations. But the fuels in live forests are dry enough to promote fire. It is weather conditions — warm and dry conditions — that make the difference,” Hart said.

colorado fireThrough early November, Colorado saw just 803 wildfires that burned across 29,400 acres, the smallest wildfire footprint since 2007. Excluding a fast-burning, late July 21,000-acre grass fire in the sparsely populated northwestern corner of the state, wildfires have burned on just 8,000 acres this year, a fraction of the acreage during recent seasons.

Fires ignited on private lands pose the most significant wildfire threats to populated areas on the eastern-facing range of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, according to risk analysts who used extensive evidence regarding a combination of forest and vegetation types, wind and climate conditions to reach their conclusions.

Lawmakers on Monday heard from experts and victims of prescribed burns in an effort to better understand how the fire-prevention method can benefit or hurt Colorado. Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, who sits on the interim Wildfire Matters Review Committee, said she would explore expanding prescribed-burn efforts but said she needs assurances that it can be done safely. “One of the big impediments to prescribed burns is the perceived threat to what if we lose control of a prescribed burn. We have learned some horrible painful steps from past experiences,” Roberts said.

[caption id="attachment_2116" align="aligncenter" width="600"]An example of thermal imaging from the 2008 Freeway Fire near the City of Yorba Linda in southern California Credit Phil Riggan An example of thermal imaging from the 2008 Freeway Fire near the City of Yorba Linda in southern California Credit Phil Riggan[/caption]

Colorado’s legislature this year created the state’s own air fleet for fighting wildfires. The endeavor includes four helicopters, two single engine air tankers, and two PC-12 single engine planes equipped with new thermal imaging technology.  The move has put Colorado at the forefront of utilizing advanced technology to battle the destructive blazes.

Colorado will begin a new strategy for fighting wildfires in the coming weeks, deploying aircraft designed to pinpoint the location of blazes quicker after the first sighting of smoke with the aim of beginning suppression efforts faster.

Hosted by the Colorado State University extension office, the wildfire mitigation field trip educated interested residents about Forest Service management practices as well as the county’s community chipping program.

On Monday, Aug. 11, firefighters from Copper Mountain, Lake Dillon and Red, White & Blue were deployed to Northern California to assist with several wildfires burning out of control. “This is invaluable training for our firefighters and we always like to help out other communities in the West when we are in a position to do so,” said Lake Dillon deputy chief Jeff Berino in the release. Berino also noted that Summit County’s fire departments were in a position to send some of their personnel west because fire danger is uncharacteristically low for this time of year.

A truck hauling about 6,000 gallons of magnesium chloride overturned at the roundabout of the Frisco exit off Interstate 70, closing the exit for about seven hours.

And unexpected burst of wind, which some estimated at 40 knots, flipped a total of 13 boats and sent 26 competitors into the chilly water of Dillon Reservoir. The microburst occurred at about 5:30 p.m., said Steve Lipsher, public information officer for Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue. Thanks to the efforts of competitors and Dillon Marina staff, it took just minutes to get everyone out of the water. Within two hours all of the boats were recovered.

[caption id="attachment_2078" align="aligncenter" width="654"]Of the 486 structures burned in last year's fire, 97 percent had a risk score of at least 81 on a scale of 1 to 100, according to CoreLogic, a California-based provider of real estate and financial information. Homes rated 1 to 50 are unlikely to ever see damage from a wildfire, and 78 percent of homes in Colorado fall into that category. (Helen H. Richardson, Denver Post file) Of the 486 structures burned in last year’s fire, 97 percent had a risk score of at least 81 on a scale of 1 to 100, according to CoreLogic, a California-based provider of real estate and financial information. Homes rated 1 to 50 are unlikely to ever see damage from a wildfire, and 78 percent of homes in Colorado fall into that category. (Helen H. Richardson, Denver Post file)[/caption]

It is raining hard in Colorado this summer, but for many homeowners in the state, wildfire danger remains ever present. More than 200,000 Colorado homes are highly vulnerable to wildfires, according to a proprietary scale developed by CoreLogic, a California-based provider of real estate and financial information. That represents more than one out of 10 Colorado homes, the highest ratio found in any state. The value of those high-risk homes is estimated at $38.2 billion. The next-most-exposed states are Montana, at 9.1 percent of homes, and Oregon, at 8 percent. In dollar terms, Texas and California have the most property vulnerable to wildfire. “There are three states that stand out among the rest for wildfires: California, Colorado and Texas,” said Thomas Jeffery, a senior hazard scientist with CoreLogic. CoreLogic has developed a proprietary scale that runs from 1 to 100. Homes rated 1 to 50 are unlikely to ever see damage from a wildfire, and 78 percent of homes in Colorado fall into that category. By itself, a ranking doesn’t determine probability, but many insurers use Core-Logic’s risk score to help determine whether they will insure a property, what premiums to charge and what mitigation efforts are needed.

[caption id="attachment_2047" align="aligncenter" width="620"]wildfire drill 2 pebble creek 26 June 2014 Doug and Patrick Spainhower cut up a dead lodgepole pine in the Pebble Creek neighborhood last Thursday morning. Credit: Brandon Evans, Summit Daily News[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2048" align="aligncenter" width="620"]wildfire drill pebble creek 26 June 2014 Lake Dillon Fire Department intern Liam Allen gains valuable experience as one of dozens of Summit County firefighters engaged in wildfire training in Pebble Creek last Thursday. Credit: Brandon Evans, Summit Daily News[/caption]

A cleared-out strip of land, lush with low, waving grasses, and dotted with yellow and purple wildflowers, protects the neighborhoods like a moat. This barrier did not occur naturally, but through years of work and investment by scores of homeowners. And it’s only one of the many projects they’ve undertaken to get their neighborhood labeled a “Firewise Community” by the National Fire Protection Association. So far they’re the only community to do so in the Lake Dillon Fire District, the largest fire district in Summit County.

Summit County firefighters will conduct wildfire-response drills in three neighborhoods around the community next week to sharpen their preparation for summer. The drills will take place in the Gold Hill neighborhood between Breckenridge and Frisco on Monday, in the Pebble Creek neighborhood north of Silverthorne on Thursday and in the Bill’s Ranch neighborhood near Frisco on Friday. Residents will see firefighting equipment and firefighters in wildfire gear doing training and should use caution when driving near them. The agencies don’t anticipate delays or obstructions to normal traffic. Fire crews may use artificial smoke to simulate a wildfire, and residents may be contacted as if they were being evacuated, but residents should not call 911.

About 300 Colorado Springs residents — already shaken by two catastrophic wildfires and the loss of hundreds of homes in the area over the past two years — were told to get important items in order and have them readily available in case of evacuation. Attendees also were told to make copies of important documents, organize pictures and collect sentimental items and advised to bring those items to work or school on red flag days. Participants also were told to print out hard copies of phone numbers in case phones’ batteries die. It’s also encouraged to include an extra set of car keys and a thumb drive of important documents in the kit.

When they are done with the four-day course that includes classroom work and hands-on experience, most of the students will try to find work with a hand crew. A hand crew is a group that spends long days digging lines around a wildfire, burning out fuels to keep the fire from spreading. It is a dangerous, physically demanding job that sometimes lasts for days, miles from the nearest town. Part of the reward is financial. Wildland firefighters can earn more than $2,000 a week.

  • Events to commemorate 20th anniversary of Storm King fire 9 April 2014

Local, state and federal wildland firefighters are partnering to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the tragic South Canyon Fire, which claimed the lives of 14 firefighters on Storm King Mountain in 1994. “The community will never forget the sacrifices of the 14 firefighters on Storm King Mountain July 6, 1994,” said Glenwood Springs Fire Chief Gary Tillotson. Nearly 20 organizations are participating in a committee to organize the commemorative events for the 20th anniversary of the South Canyon Fire. The public commemorative event will be held July 6 in Glenwood Springs at Two Rivers Park, the site of the memorial for the 14 firefighters killed on Storm King Mountain. For more information, go to www.southcanyonfire.com.

  • Incident command teams ready for wildfire season 9 April 2014

Incident management teams from around the rocky mountain region are gathered in Cheyenne this week to plan for this year’s wildfire season. “Go over standard operating procedures, kind of like a training session for folks to be able to know before we get on a fire exactly what we do. Kind of knock the rust off from a long winter,” said Jay Esperance, Incident Commander for Rocky Mountain Team C. In total, 250 incident team members from the five states that make up the rocky mountain region are collaborating to manage this year’s fires.

Summit County has been chosen to join a select group of pilot communities across the country that are leading the way in wildfire mitigation and adaptation. On March 31, the Fire Adapted Communities Network welcomed the Summit County Wildfire Council as a “hub organization,” holding the county up as a model for the development of best practices and innovations in safely living with fire.

Colorado’s 2014 wildfire season is upon us.  Create a “defensible space” for your buildings and landscape with “FireWise” landscaping materials. For guidance on landscaping and preparedness, please take the time to visit www.firewise.org.  

Construction is set to begin this week on a new fire station for the Boulder Fire Department’s new Wildland Fire Training Center, which will house the department’s wildland fire unit. The permit for the new station at 6075 Reservoir Road was approved in late March and Boulder Fire Chief Larry Donner said crews are hoping to get started this week and plan an official ground-breaking sometime this month. “We’re really pretty excited about this,” Donner said. The permit lists the new station at 11,268 square feet, with 7,230 square feet for offices, bunk rooms, restrooms, equipment storage and a kitchen area along with a 4,038 square-foot apparatus bay. Donner said the total cost of building the station will be $4.1 million, and it should be ready to open by next spring. Currently, the fire department’s wildland division — which responds to wildland fires and does fire mitigation — has its equipment stored at other Boulder fire stations in any spare space. “If you scatter your resources into a little bit of space here and there, even when it comes to starting your day you are gathering personnel and the equipment you need to go to work,” Donner said. “Having it all in one place will let them get their day started more efficiently.” Donner also pointed out that the house where the wildland firefighters had been staying at 19th Street and Violet Avenue was washed out during the September flooding. The firefighters for now are staying at a building on Pearl Parkway, but Donner said a new headquarters for them was needed. “Even if we hadn’t been planning on moving them (before the flood), fate would have dictated we move them,” Donner said.

The initial proposal to pay for an aerial firefighting fleet to protect Coloradans against wildfires came with a whopping price tag of nearly $34 million. That was too much, but the pared-down plan of $21 million that received Senate approval Thursday is still excessive. The plan to add state aerial firefighting capacity comes out of a report generated at the urging of state Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction. The report is by Paul L. Cooke, director of the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, and it recommends buying two aircraft and contracting to use 10 others. The idea would be to develop an aggressive initial attack strategy to put out fires before they get too big.

Around 400 firefighters from different departments took part in a unique training exercise on Friday to prepare them to save each other in a fire. These “mayday scenarios” are actually going on for six days with 48 drills. A handful of departments all across the area will use the information they’re learning to train firefighters this fall. When firefighters receive a mayday call from one of their own, the rapid intervention team heads in. To rescue a firefighter trapped inside a burning building multiple responders from different departments have to work together. In one drill it took just over a minute to find the down firefighter and start getting air back into his lungs. “There are no time outs. The fire is still burning in the building. There’s still other things that have to take place, so you have to redeploy in such a way that you’re still taking care of the fire, that you’re putting the fire out, and that you’re still getting to that firefighter as quickly as possible,” said South Metro Fire Chief Mike West.

Facing the prospect of a dangerous wildfire season made worse by a devastating drought, Colorado officials are thinking about spending millions of dollars to invest in a new fleet of firefighting air tankers. A bipartisan proposal before the state Senate would give the state Division of Fire Prevention and Control the funds to buy or lease three firefighting helicopters this year, and to lease as many as four large aircraft to fight fires next year. The bill, which would cost between $8 million and $12 million a year, would help the state protect critical watersheds on the dry Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains. The Western Slope has been hammered for three years by drought and by a growing infestation of invasive beetles that kill trees. The insects are turning forests that might be able to survive fires into 40-foot-tall matchsticks.

[caption id="attachment_1859" align="aligncenter" width="614"]Photo courtesy of CBS. Photo courtesy of CBS.[/caption]

Wildfire season is starting to heat up in Colorado, and firefighters are making sure they’re ready to go at any moment. About 80 firefighters from 12 agencies around the Denver metro area practiced mock wildfire scenarios in Evergreen Sunday. They’re preparing themselves for a dangerous season ahead.

To fire-weary Larimer County residents, the Galena Fire might have seemed like a freak accident. It didn’t have to happen. But it became part of a Larimer County trend of dead vegetation and spring winds fueling grass and forest fires. Weather typically trumps all when it comes to wildfire and this year, despite Northern Colorado’s above-average snowpack, plentiful snow is no panacea for wildfires. Here, the “transition” period from winter to spring in particular has a proven fire record.

Increased money for flood recovery and fire prevention, along with greater investment in K-12 and higher education, are among the highlights of Colorado’s proposed 2014-15 budget. The Office of Emergency Preparedness and Response, which covers fires and floods, saw its allocation increase by more than 10 percent from a year ago.

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Families of Colorado seasonal wildland firefighters who die in the line of duty will get a $10,000 payment to help with funeral costs and other expenses under a new law. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper on Thursday signed the bipartisan-sponsored bill.

The Colorado legislature on Friday once again delayed a vote on a bill aimed at preventing agricultural fires from starting wildfires. The move came after its sponsor said he wanted to kill the proposal because farmers oppose it. The measure would clarify that county commissioners can ban agricultural burning and campfires when fire risk is high. It was initially recommended by a legislative panel. “It sounded like a pretty decent bill. But after looking at it and getting into it, I realized there could be a possibility” of county officials overusing the power, explained Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, its sponsor. Crowder previously led a charge to delete a provision giving the county commissioners the power to ban fireworks after it appeared that counties already have that power. Some of Crowder’s fellow Republicans blasted the limits on agricultural fires. “It’s not like we’re reckless. We have too much to lose,” said one of the few farmers in the Legislature, Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray. The bill is now in limbo. Crowder says he doesn’t have the votes to ax it and Democrats don’t have the votes to pass it. It was previously approved by the House with a 36-27 vote on Feb. 14.

What happens when you mix a dust devil and a brush fire? In Colorado you apparently get a “Firenado!” Firefighter Thomas Rogers uploaded a video to YouTube of a prescribed burn of 150 acres that occurred last Friday at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in the Denver metro area. But just as crews thought they had a handle on things, a dust devil formed in front of them and drew the flames into it igniting the debris within the twister. Rogers said the flaming dust devil burned about one additional acre before it broke apart. Luckily, no one was hurt. Watch the amazing video at the link above. 

Colorado lawmakers are proposing a bill that would add three helicopters to the fleet the first year at a cost of anywhere from $8 to $12 million to lease them. There would be two Type 1 helicopters capable of dropping retardant, or converted to include 18 seats in order to drop firefighters into certain terrain. Specifically, Senate Bill Senate Bill 164 calls on the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control to purchase, lease or contract three firefighting helicopters this year. It calls for the division to lease or contract for use up to “four large aircraft from the federal government or other sources” next year.

[caption id="attachment_1841" align="aligncenter" width="653"]COMMERCE CITY MARCH 19: Aaron Vaughn of West Metro Fire Rescue is torching for prescribed burn at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. Commerce City. Colorado. March 19. 2014. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post) COMMERCE CITY MARCH 19: Aaron Vaughn of West Metro Fire Rescue is torching for prescribed burn at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. Commerce City. Colorado. March 19. 2014. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)[/caption]

Trying to prevent catastrophic wildfires, federal crews torched more than 40,000 piles of dead wood this past year in snow-laden Colorado forests. And state health authorities may allow more controlled burns over broad areas. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has agreed to expand an experiment that relaxes smoke permitting so that burn crews can operate more freely. While controlled fires that mimic natural cycles can protect communities and revive dying forests, they also produce smoke at potentially unhealthy levels, state air quality officials warned in a meeting last week. But forest managers are compelled to act because the 18,544 acres treated with controlled fire in 2013 still does not come close to the 1 million acres that the U.S. Forest Service recommends. For years, Forest Service experts have argued that state limits on open burning are shortsighted, shielding people who chose to live in woods from occasional smoke at the expense of long-term safety and ecological health.

[caption id="attachment_1835" align="aligncenter" width="605"]The Black Forest Fire during its early hours in 2013. Photo credit: Steve and Mary Snyder The Black Forest Fire during its early hours in 2013. Photo credit: Steve and Mary Snyder[/caption]

Despite all the hubbub in Washington, D.C. about the sequester, military cuts and a proposal to raise the minimum wage. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colorado, hasn’t forgotten that the 2014 fire season is upon us. In letters sent today, Udall urged the Air Force and Forest Service “to swiftly repurpose military aircraft to help fight future wildfires in Colorado and across the West,” his office said in a news release.

[caption id="attachment_1837" align="aligncenter" width="620"]The trees on a ridge above Cedar Heights go up in flames on Sunday afternoon, June 24, 2012. Photo by JERILEE BENNETT/THE GAZETTE The trees on a ridge above Cedar Heights go up in flames on Sunday afternoon, June 24, 2012. Photo by JERILEE BENNETT/THE GAZETTE[/caption]

Officials at Monday’s Waldo Canyon Fire Recovery Group meeting looked back at two catastrophic wildfires in the last two years and then forward to the 2014 fire season and expressed collective frustration. There was no disagreement when R.C. Smith, county fire recovery manager, and other El Paso County representatives said that there has not been enough collaborative work done on fire mitigation and preparing for what Mark Shea of Colorado Springs Utilities said could inevitably be the “next Waldo Canyon fire.” “What have we done to mitigate?” Shea asked. “And what are the right forums and the right attendees to look at communication and proactive, preventative measures?” The Waldo Canyon Fire burned more than 18,000 acres in the mountains west of Colorado Springs in June 2012. As the area readied for repercussions in the form of flash floods, the Black Forest Fire erupted in June 2013, scorching more than 14,000 acres in northern El Paso County. Each fire killed two people and destroyed hundreds of homes.

The 302nd Airlift Wing at Peterson Air Force Base announced airmen and aircraft are on the chopping block under proposed 2015 federal budget. A 200 member squadron will be shutdown. Those airmen will be reassigned or without a job if Congress passes the budget. The ripple effect could go far beyond the base as the 302nd Airlift Wing’s fleet of C-130H3 aircraft will be reduced by one-third. A spokesperson 302nd Airlift Wing said airmen are preparing for the 2014 wildfire season but wouldn’t answer directly when asked if she thought the cuts would hinder the group’s ability to fight fires. During the Black Forest Fire, aircraft was in short supply. Three minutes after dispatch announced there was a fire in the Black Forest last June, calls for aircraft started coming in. “Can you check with pueblo the availability of air resources,” said Scott Ridings with Donald Wescott Fire Department over dispatch. “Put an order in for two heavy airtankers to pueblo on my order. I need help,” said El Paso County Assistant Fire Marshal Scott Campbell over dispatch a few minutes later.

The Summit County Commissioners today ratified changes to the county’s mutual aid agreement with the Red, White & Blue Fire District, strengthening the two agencies’ existing partnership in providing ambulance services in Summit County. The agreement will make for better use of existing resources, with new opportunities for reduced operating costs. Under the new agreement, Red, White & Blue will be the first agency to respond to 911 calls for ambulance service in its district, which covers 140 square miles between Hoosier Pass and Frisco town limits. Summit County Ambulance Service (SCAS) will assume simultaneous and second-call coverage inside the district, beginning about May 1. Currently, SCAS has first-call status throughout all of Summit County, including inside the Red, White & Blue Fire Protection District. “In the face of growing SCAS budget deficits, we have an obligation to our community to identify funding and operational strategies to reduce this shortfall, without compromising the level of service patients receive,” Commissioner Thomas Davidson said. “This enhanced relationship with Red, White & Blue is a common-sense, fiscally responsible move that we cannot pass up.”

As most of the country prepares to spring its clocks forward an hour this Sunday, March 9, Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue is reminding residents that daylight saving time also is a good time to change the batteries in home smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

The Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests will have a helicopter on hand this summer to help firefighters reach forest areas made inaccessible due to flood-damaged roads, according to U.S. Forest Service news release. The Type 3 firefighting helicopter, which is smaller than Type 1 tankers and can fly about 500 feet from the ground, will be available for the forests’ exclusive use from mid-June until mid-September. According to the National Park Service, Type 3 helicopters can carry up to 100 gallons of water and have four to eight passenger seats. The helicopter, similar to the one the forests had last summer, was awarded after a Flood Incident Assessment Team found that 232 roads throughout the Northern Colorado forests were damaged by flood waters. After the team did a study in November, it found that the floods had caused $16.8 million of damage to roads, trails and other facilities. In addition to the helicopter, the forest service received $2.2 million from the Federal Highway Administration to repair damaged roads in the Canyon Lakes and Boulder ranger districts. The flood team’s recovery work is expected to continue throughout the spring and summer.

Fire has taken much from Duaine “Whitey” Smith over the course of his 91 years. At age 10, he lost his father to a fire that also claimed the family home in Ames, Iowa. On Jan. 26, 1982, his young son, Scott Smith, was one of two firefighters killed in a Boulder Fire Department training exercise held in an old chicken coop near the corner of Hawthorn Avenue and 15th Street. The exercise went horribly wrong when highly combustible fiberboard ceiling tiles in the coop were ignited, killing 30-year-old engineer William Duran and 21-year-old Scott Smith, who had joined the department just three months prior. Whitey Smith’s most recent encounter with fire did not result in loss of life, though he did lose almost everything he owned when his mobile home burned to the ground about six weeks ago. The trailer, located in the Boulder Meadows mobile home park near 19th Street and Violet Avenue, was destroyed after Smith crawled under it and attempted to use a blowtorch to thaw his frozen pipes one frigid January morning. Members of the Boulder firefighters union, the International Firefighters Local 900, have stepped up since the blaze to help Smith recover from his setback. Boulder fire inspector Manuel Sedillo is a 35-year veteran of the department and serving president of the Local 900. He responded to the scene the day Scott Smith was killed in 1982. Sedillo said once crews on the scene of Whitey Smith’s trailer fire figured out who he was, the union sprung into action to support him in his time of need, passing the hat to all department staff and quickly providing him with some cash to help him get by. “The Local 900 wanted to do more than just what we were able to collect,” Sedillo said. “We had a special union meeting and we voted to provide whatever Whitey needed up to $10,000.”

The snowpack in the nearby mountains is good, and the Western Slope has received ample moisture this winter, but low snowfall and high winds in Evergreen and surrounding areas have made Evergreen Fire Rescue pretty nervous. “Last year we were standing up here we were talking about how dry it was and how low the reservoirs were and how bleak the outlook was ,” Evergreen fire chief Mike Weege told the audience at a forum at Evergreen High School hosted by Evergreen Fire Protection District. “We had a pretty wet spring (last year), but as we saw, even with all that rain, the fuels out there were really dry and the story this year isn’t much different.”

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Of the 2,229 calls across the Lake Dillon Fire Protection District just 2 percent, or 43 calls, were for structure fires, a 28 percent drop compared with 2012. Property loss due to structure fires totaled $418,406, according to the report. Firefighters were able to save more than $13.5 million in property. LDFR spokesman Steve Lipsher attributed the drop in part to better fire-resistant building construction, the declining reliance on wood-burning stoves and fireplaces and public education. “Truth be told, we just don’t respond to that many structure fires anymore, even though people always think of us primarily as a ‘fire department’ rather than what we are; an all-hazards emergency response department,” Lipsher said. “Public education, without a doubt, also has played a role, and the studies have shown that communities with greater public-education programs have lower incidence of fire. Both of those factors go toward fire prevention, which is what we want to achieve in the first place.”

Among the key findings in the Lessons from Waldo Canyon report produced by the Fire Adapted Communities (FAC) Coalition are:

    • Creating and maintaining effective defensible space around homes and businesses, and using ignition-resistant construction techniques are critical to reducing a building’s risk of igniting.
    • A community-wide approach to wildfire preparedness that includes all stakeholders substantially improves the chances of successful mitigation efforts. The Colorado Springs Mitigation Section is a good example of this approach. Their actions reduced the number of homes destroyed or damaged during the Waldo Canyon Fire.
    • Using fuels management tools to reduce flammable vegetation found around neighborhoods and in more remote areas is an effective way to reduce the spread of a wildfire.
[caption id="attachment_1796" align="aligncenter" width="614"] Evan Fry’s modern new home outside Boulder brings modernity and fire resistance to the mountains. Credit: New York Times.[/caption]

In 2010, the Fourmile Canyon fire in Colorado destroyed about 168 homes here over Labor Day weekend, including that of Evan Fry. He and his wife, Melissa, decided to rebuild, bringing a touch of modernity — and fire resistance — to the mountains west of Boulder.

Nine firefighters and staff members of Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue will be honored this weekend with longevity and achievement awards in a dress-uniform ceremony in Frisco. The awards ceremony is scheduled from noon to 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 1, at the Frisco Community Center, 110 S. Granite St. The event is open to the public.

The Obama administration wants to fundamentally shift how it pays for firefighting in the United States — something Western lawmakers and governors have been agitating to change for years. The proposal, which doesn’t increase overall spending and is part of President Barack Obama’s budget this year, essentially allows for separate funds to fight fires so the federal government doesn’t have to take money away from prevention.

Four years after a wildfire burned down their wood-framed house in north San Diego County, Sara Matta and her husband moved into their new home, a 3,000-square-foot, cream-colored, minimalist modern home nestled among boulders. Perched on a cliff, the house is constructed mostly from concrete, steel and dual-paned tempered glass.

After evacuating her north San Diego County home in the middle of the night, Sara Matta returned a few days later to find the 3,000-square-foot wood-framed house she and her husband had owned for nearly 30 years burned to the ground. What remained was little more than a chimney, charred furniture and burned-out mattress springs. For those who decided to rebuild, some are deploying the latest technology and design techniques to create cutting-edge, highly fire-resistant replacements.

In the coming months, experts will be serving as wildfire mitigation specialists that will counsel area homeowners on how to protect their properties from the threat as part of the Boulder County’s new Wildfire Partners program. Boulder County officials are seeking to enroll qualified homeowners now for the first year program. It offers participants an individual, on-site wildfire risk assessment of their homes with a specialist and a custom report on the weaknesses of their fire defenses in advance of a follow-up inspection to ensure recommended mitigation measures have been enacted. Enrollees also will have access to wildfire phone advisors, and will be eligible for a minimum $300 in rebates for their mitigation efforts at the conclusion of the program.

[caption id="attachment_1754" align="aligncenter" width="600"]A firefighter walks though the burned aftermath of the Black Forest Fire northeast of Colorado Springs. Picture taken June 21, 2013. A firefighter walks though the burned aftermath of the Black Forest Fire northeast of Colorado Springs. Picture taken June 21, 2013.[/caption]

Residents living in Colorado’s wildland urban interface, or WUI will need to do more fire planning and mitigation in the years ahead. That’s according to the annual 2013 Report on the Health of Colorado’s Forests [.pdf], released this week by the Colorado State Forest Service.

[caption id="attachment_1752" align="aligncenter" width="539"]President Barack Obama visited firefighters at the Mountain Shadows neighborhood damaged by the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs, Colo., in 2012. More than 30,000 people were evacuated in what was the most destructive wildfire in state history. (Associated Press) President Barack Obama visited firefighters at the Mountain Shadows neighborhood damaged by the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs, Colo., in 2012. More than 30,000 people were evacuated in what was the most destructive wildfire in state history. (Associated Press)[/caption]

Obama wants the Interior and Agriculture Departments, the two agencies tasked with fighting wildfires, to be able to draw funds from a special disaster account when the cost of tackling fires exceeds their annual budget. That’s the same approach the federal government currently takes when responding to hurricanes and tornadoes.

It sounds like something out of a movie, police and firefighters chasing after a speeding train with an engine on fire, but it wasn’t something from a movie. An officer with the Fountain Police Department was near the intersection of Highway 85 and Main Street in the city of Fountain when he noticed a train with an engine on fire heading out of town and towards the City of Colorado Springs.

A Jefferson County District Court judge has thrown out a number of claims filed by homeowners who sued the state to recover losses from the deadly 2012 Lower North Fork Fire. The March 22, 2012, prescribed burn that exploded into an inferno was set by the Colorado State Forest Service. Judge Dennis Hall on Tuesday granted state motions to dismiss all but negligence claims filed after the fire, which took two lives, destroyed 22 homes and charred 4,100 acres. The additional claims included allegations of civil rights violations arguing that the state took the victims’ land without paying them. Other claims labeled “exotic” by state lawyers alleged that the state willfully and wantonly burned property or homes. “Here, the homeowners do not, and in good faith cannot, allege that their losses were a ‘known or obvious consequence’ of the manner in which the Forest Service conducted the controlled burn,” Hall wrote.

The Black Forest Fire Rescue/Protection District is looking for a few “spark plugs” to help transform the Black Forest area into a group of “Firewise Communities.” Spark plug is the name Firewise gives to people who take the lead in convincing a community to take part in a national program designed to save homes and lives in fire-prone areas. There are 950 certified Firewise Communities in the United States, meaning residents, firefighters and government officials share a commitment and action plans to minimize fire risk. Minimizing risk is an important step for the Black Forest, hit by a firestorm that consumed more than 14,000 acres, destroyed 488 homes and killed two people about eight months ago. “We need to come together as a community where our properties are joined and provide mutual support and mutual protection,” said Lt. Scott MacDonald, Black Forest Fire’s community programs coordinator. “That’s the whole purpose behind Firewise Communities.” A vanguard of about 25 residents attended a kick-off meeting recently at the Black Forest fire station focused on developing a firewise community. The group watched a hard-hitting, 15-minute video by Pikes Peak Wildfire Prevention Partners that analyzed the Black Forest fire.

[caption id="attachment_1630" align="aligncenter" width="614"]U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, center, talks with local officials about wildfire policy and legislation at a meeting in Frisco on Sunday, Feb. 9. Credit: Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, center, talks with local officials about wildfire policy and legislation at a meeting in Frisco on Sunday, Feb. 9. Credit: Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue[/caption]

Summit County’s preparedness to respond to a large-scale wildfire and how the federal government might help with that burden were among the topics of conversation when U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., met with local firefighting officials in Frisco.

[caption id="attachment_1620" align="aligncenter" width="200"]GasMeter_with_Arrow The arrow points to a relief valve on a gas mater. Residents should ensure that their meters are clear of snow and ice. (Photo credit: Xcel Energy.)[/caption]

With deep snow already on the ground and more coming, Summit County fire departments want to remind residents to keep their gas meters clear of ice and snow. Buried or ice-encrusted gas meters can create dangerous natural-gas buildups inside the house, according to a Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue news release. The vent can become plugged when ice and snow melt during the day and refreeze at night. “We have seen home fires and explosions due to snow and ice damaging a gas meter or the piping,” said Red, White & Blue deputy chief and fire marshal Jay Nelson in the release. “It’s also important to keep the area around the meters clear from snow, so if firefighters need access to turn them off, they can reach them.”

After a destructive season of fires last year U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., wants to stop history from repeating itself. Udall is a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and according to him more preemptive work is crucial. “If you spend those monies on the front end, it’s a much more cost effective way of preventing natural disasters,” said Udall. He has introduced legislation to allow more funds for wildfire prevention in addition to what Coloradans are already doing.

[caption id="attachment_1627" align="aligncenter" width="614"]U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, left, chats with LDFR Deputy Chief Jeff Berino about wildfire policy and legislation at a roundtable meeting in Frisco on 9 February 2014. U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, left, chats with LDFR Deputy Chief Jeff Berino about wildfire policy and legislation at a roundtable meeting in Frisco on 9 February 2014. Credit: Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue[/caption]

There is so much snow piling up in the mountains that hundreds of fire hydrants cannot be accessed. Hydrants in Frisco are already about 4 feet off the ground, but many are completely covered. Crews such as one from the Lake Dillon Fire Department can only get to a few dozen every day. “The thing is we’ve got about 2,000 fire hydrants in our district, so while our crews are trying to shovel out some of them, they’re not going to get to every one of them after every storm,” a firefighter said.IMAG0332

KCNC News 4 photographer John Mason films Lake Dillon Firefighter Steve Wantuck digging out a fire hydrant in Frisco on 5 February 2014. (Credit: Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue.)

The Jan. 24 fire proved to Kay and Don Heaberlins that taking care of a small business’ back-end operations – the accounting, insurance, backing up payroll and other information – is as important as the customer service and products they sell.

Logging does not appear to prevent pine-beetle outbreaks, so policy makers should stop making such claims, according to a University of Montana researcher. Diana Six, a University of Montana pine-beetle biologist, and two University of California-Berkeley policy experts published a review of the scientific evidence to date on whether forest manipulation is effective at preventing pine-beetle outbreaks. The answer is generally “No.”

A new survey of Colorado forests indicates that the mountain pine beetle epidemic has slowed dramatically, but the spruce beetle outbreak continues to spread. The survey by the U.S. Forest Service and the Colorado State Forest Service was released Thursday. The two agencies annually survey forests in the state for insect and disease.

Gov. John Hickenlooper and lawmakers from both parties last week discussed eight bills aimed at improving Colorado’s ability to mitigate and fight wildfires. “Colorado has seen some of the most catastrophic wildfires in our nation’s history,” Hickenlooper said. “This package of bills is the product of a legislative interim committee created last year and ongoing work on these issues by state agencies and their local partners. We are committed to doing what we can with the state’s available resources to keep Coloradans safe and reduce as much property loss from fire as possible.”

Just as a report was released showing that fire mitigation efforts helped save homes during the Black Forest fire, Gov. John Hickenlooper touted the state’s response to rampant wildfires, including a proposed tax incentive for homeowners who do such things as create defensible space. But questions loom about what isn’t being done. Hickenlooper highlighted eight bills that will be considered at the state Capitol in 2014. They include a maximum $2,500 tax credit for homeowners who mitigate their property and a new website filled with information for those living in fire-prone areas. Not on the agenda are a number of hard-hitting recommendations from the governor’s wildfire task force. Randy Johnson, president of Pikes Peak Wildfire Prevention Partners, said he hopes the life and safety issues of wildfires don’t become a “political football” this session.

Colorado’s poor emergency radio system would be in for long-overdue repairs under a bill Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, introduced Friday. Fire chiefs have told Roberts and other legislators that their No. 1 priority is to upgrade the state’s Digital Trunk Radio System. The system is designed to let first responders from all different agencies – local, state and federal – communicate during a crisis. Colorado started building the system through Homeland Security grants after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But the grants dried up, and the system remains unworkable in many parts of the state. Many fire bosses have to carry two or three radios to relay messages between federal and state forces. Fixing it will be expensive and will take years. Area fire chiefs have told Roberts that Southwest Colorado alone needs up to seven new transmission towers, at a cost of $10 million each. Even with an improving economy, the state does not have the money to fix the whole system this year or anytime soon. But Roberts’ bill requires the state Department of Public Safety to come up with a business plan for upgrading the radio system by the end of the year. It also creates a new advisory committee to oversee the system, with representatives from public safety agencies around the state. “This is asking (advice from) the people on the ground, the ones who have been so frustrated and clamoring for a new approach,” Roberts said. Later this year, Roberts expects the budget committee to talk about funding the radio system.

 

A Colorado state senator will be introducing legislation that would provide $9 million for four helicopters and an air tanker to suppress wildfires. A bill approved last year created the Colorado Firefighting Air Corps (CFAC) but failed to appropriate any funds to run the agency or acquire any aviation assets.

Lori Miller, who retired in 2012 as chief of the Red, White & Blue Fire Department in Breckenridge, was picked this week to fill a short-term vacancy on the Lake Dillon Fire Protection District Board. “We’re delighted to have Chief Miller join our board,” said board president Jerry “Doc” Peterson in the release. “She brings expertise from a distinguished career in the fire service in both Boulder and Breckenridge, terrific knowledge of the area and the people here, and a spirit of collaboration and can-do enthusiasm that we saw on display when she served as chief of our neighboring department.”

lori miller

Despite recommendations from a task force convened by the governor to deal with Colorado’s most-pressing wildfire issues, lawmakers this legislative session so far have avoided big-fix measures in favor of smaller, more piecemeal approaches. About a dozen measures have been proposed this session. They span from providing tax credits for clearing brush, to counties placing limits on the rights of ranchers burning land and the adoption of a grant program for fire department safety.

papoose fire colorado 2013 june 27

 

The Papoose fire burns out of control on June 27, 2013. 

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The Waldo Canyon fire, which ravaged the Mountain Shadow subdivision in Colorado Springs, proved to be one of the most costly fires in state history. Credit: R.J. Sangosti/The Denver Post

Copper Mountain Fire, Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue and Red, White & Blue need the community’s help and are asking local residents to adopt a fire hydrant by shoveling away snow to ensure firefighter access in case of an emergency.

[caption id="attachment_1567" align="aligncenter" width="614"]Lake Dillon firefighters Doug Beeler, left, and Lou Laurina dig out a fire hydrant in Frisco this week. Summit County’s firefighters appreciate any help in clearing snow from hydrants to ensure easy and quick access in case of a fire. Credit: Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue Lake Dillon firefighters Doug Beeler, left, and Lou Laurina dig out a fire hydrant in Frisco this week. Summit County’s firefighters appreciate any help in clearing snow from hydrants to ensure easy and quick access in case of a fire. Credit: Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue[/caption]

For the third year in a row, Lake Dillon firefighters will host a dinner at the fire station in Keystone for participants in the Wounded Warriors ski trip, Wednesday, Jan. 22. The Wounded Warriors program annually brings about a dozen recently injured veterans and their families together for 2½ days of free skiing — including adaptive equipment and lessons from certified adaptive ski instructors — to thank them for their service and to help them enjoy the mountains.

Wildfires in the U.S. are becoming bigger, more destructive and more frequent. And the extra cost of putting them out comes straight from the budget for fire prevention.

[caption id="attachment_1577" align="aligncenter" width="770"]The Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs in 2012. Michael Rieger/FEMA The Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs in 2012. Michael Rieger/FEMA[/caption]
  • Cool video of modern “scooper” planes filling up by skimming over a reservoir in the Colby fire outside of Los Angeles. 20 January 2014scooper plane
  • The Black Forest Fire 17 January 2014 Gripping video from the Pikes Peak Wildfire Prevention Partners on the most destructive fire in Colorado’s history that claimed two lives and destroyed nearly 500 homes. Why did some neighborhoods survive and how do fire fighters determine which homes can be safely defended? This video answers those questions.

State Sen. Ellen S. Roberts opinion column: It is utterly irresponsible to continue to only react to catastrophe instead of getting ahead of it, including with restorative forest health practices.

  • Nearly 2,400 people died in fires in the United States in 2013 7 January 2014

Sobering stats from the U.S. Fire Administration: In 2013, 2,398 civilians lost their lives due to fire, including 324 children and 687 seniors. (In Colorado, we had 13 fire-related fatalities — a small number, but still too many.) And here’s the kicker: In 167 of those fires, there were NO WORKING SMOKE DETECTORS. Let’s keep fighting until those numbers are zero, folks!

  • New forests, new fire hazards 7 January 2014

The mountain pine beetle epidemic that killed more than 6 million acres of lodgepole pine trees in Colorado is over, scientists say, and the ravaged forests have begun to rejuvenate. But the new, regrown forests will be different — aspen, spruce and subalpine fir trees will mature among acres of beetle-kill deadfall. From Roosevelt National Forest to Rocky Mountain National Park, the new forests will be more susceptible to wildfire, ecologists say.

  • Forest Service to get aerial reinforcements to fight wildfires 7 January 2014

Good news for the wildfire-weary West: The federal government is deploying more planes to support firefighters who’ve been confronting bigger and badder blazes in recent years. Under a provision in a military bill that President Barack Obama signed into law Dec. 26, the U.S. Forest Service will get 22 military aircraft — seven HC-130H Hercules air tankers and 15 C-23B Sherpa cargo planes — beginning this year. The provision, authored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and John McCain, R-Ariz., requires the military to transfer the planes for use throughout the U.S. But they’re likely to be used the most out West, where wildfires are on the rise because of tinderbox conditions caused by a prolonged drought. The transfers come in the midst of a steady decline in the Forest Service’s aerial fleet. The agency had 44 large tankers in 2002 but only eight in early 2013, according to the Government Accountability Office.

  • Politicians may regulate Colorado wildfire chain of command 7 January 2014

A state senator plans to introduce a bill that would empower county authorities to take over command during an emergency without permission or a request from the local jurisdiction. The measure stems from a dispute in the response to the Black Forest Fire between the local fire chief and the county sheriff. In the case of the Black Forest fire, the Black Forest Fire Department first responded to the fire, and coordinated a multi-agency effort to stop the rapidly spreading flames. Sen. Kent Lambert said El Paso County wasn’t able to take command of the firefighting response because they weren’t asked. However, the assistant county fire marshall was involved from early on and ordered aerial firefighting resources, according to dispatch logs released on Monday by the sheriff’s office.

 

  • The Fire Line: Wildfire in Colorado2 January 2014

Excellent Denver Post documentary about wildfire in Colorado and where we go from here.

 

  • New Forests, New Fire Hazards After Beetle Kill 2 January 2014

In the Roosevelt National Forest northwest of Fort Collins, subalpine fir trees and aspens have started to grow in the shadows of dead lodgepole pine trees. It is becoming a new forest, with new hazards. The mountain pine beetle epidemic that killed more than 6 million acres of lodgepole pine trees in Colorado is over, scientists say, and the ravaged forests have begun to rejuvenate. But the new, regrown forests will be different – aspen, spruce and subalpine fir trees will mature among acres of beetle-kill deadfall. From Roosevelt National Forest to Rocky Mountain National Park, the new forests will be more susceptible to wildfire, ecologists say.

Tom Tingle / AP This aerial photo shows the Yarnell, Ariz. area on Wednesday in the aftermath of a blaze that claimed the lives of 19 members of an elite firefighting crew.

There’s a dangerous but basic equation behind the killer Yarnell Hill wildfire and other blazes raging across the West this summer: More heat, more drought, more fuel and more people in the way are adding up to increasingly ferocious fires.

Not just anyone could become a member of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. The elite firefighting force — which lost 19 of its 20 members in a wildfire on Sunday —  required candidates to complete a boot camp-style test to prove they were in peak physical condition. “Problem solving, teamwork, ability to make decisions in a stressful environment and being nice are the attributes of our crewmembers,” the team’s website noted.

The 19 firefighters who lost their lives in an Arizona blaze took advantage of the last resort available to them — emergency shelters that look like aluminized sleeping bags — but even those weren’t enough to save them. Firefighters are trained to do everything they can to stay out of situations where the shelters  have to come into play.

Arizona authorities struggled for answers Monday after 19 highly trained firefighters were trapped and killed by a windblown wildfire — a blaze the governor vowed to stop “before it causes any more heartache.” One day after the worst loss of life for an American fire department since Sept. 11, investigators said they had not figured out why the men were unable to retreat to a safe zone or otherwise survive the inferno.

Nineteen firefighters with the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew — an elite wildland firefighting unit sponsored by the Prescott Fire Department and its chief, Dan Fraijo — died near Yarnell, Ariz., on Sunday in the worst wildland firefighting loss in the U.S. since 1933. “Emotionally? We’re devastated,” Fraijo said at a news conference late Sunday. “We just lost 19 of some of the finest people you’re ever going to meet. Right now we’re in crisis. … Truly, we’re going through a terrible crisis right now.”Officials lost radio contact with the crew at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, said Steve Skurja, assistant spokesman for the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office. A helicopter crew spotted the bodies, he told The Times. He said all of the firefighters had deployed their fire shelters — an emergency measure when there is no escape.

Firefighters from all over the United States are making their way into Colorado. The fire personnel aren’t headed directly to the front line, instead they will be part of a central mobilization center being set up to provide rapid response in the case of an emerging wildfire. Organizers anticipate up to 400 firefighters will congregate at the facility in Clifton,  just a few miles west of Grand Junction. Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue deputy chief Jeff Berino said having the major hub of fire resources only about a two-and-a-half hour drive from Frisco could come in handy should a wildfire break out in our area.

Assistant Chief Steve Skulski puts the finishing touches on the new fire-danger sign slated for Colorado 9/Summit Boulevard in Frisco.

 Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue will be putting up a new fire-danger sign in the median of Highway 9 and Summit Boulevard in Frisco in an effort to increase awareness of the fire hazard in Summit County.

Tips for being fire-safe out in the woods.

Extreme  behavior stoked the West Fork Complex fire in southwestern Colorado Tuesday afternoon, with crowning fire sweeping  through large stands of bug-killed timber. South Fork, Wagon Wheel Gap, and an  area south of Creede on the south side  of Colorado State Highway  149 remain under evacuation, and Creede is  under a  pre-evacuation notice, fire officials said.

Firefighters locally and across Colorado are on notice after the National Weather Service put up red flag warnings for much of the state, including parts of Summit County Monday. The warnings came as a persistent dry spell pushed the local fire danger rating up into the “high” category over the weekend and changing winds brought a thick haze and the smell of smoke into Summit from the West Fork complex, a 76,000 acre blaze burning near Pagosa Springs in southern Colorado.

Crews defending resort towns, homes and cabins against a massive and erratic wildfire in Colorado’s southwest mountains were looking Tuesday for a slight break after nearly a week of unrelenting winds. About a dozen fires burned elsewhere in Colorado, including a nearly 21-square-mile wildfire near the southern Colorado town of Walsenburg that was 50 percent contained.

Drought conditions have persisted for months across southern Colorado and other Western regions, and the Forest Service says Colorado hasn’t been experiencing winter temperatures cold enough to trigger significant insect mortality. Drought and warmer winters contribute to the pine beetles’ advance, while drought and the hotter summer weather contribute to wildfires. The result? Conditions that favor the beetles as well as the blazes.

 

Crews defending small homes, a ski area and a handful of roads against an erratic wildfire in Southwest Colorado’s mountains hoped Monday for a break – any break – in the weather that will allow them to launch a more strategic assault on the backcountry blaze. The West Fork Fire likely will burn for months, said incident commander Pete Blume. And crews are not expecting to make any real gains against the 117-square-mile burn until the summer monsoon season brings cooler temperatures and rains, hopefully in early July.

The fire is feeding on beetle-killed trees and is fanned by hot, windy weather. Those conditions were expected to continue across much of Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, where a 119-square-mile wildfire in the mountains of Gila National Forest is expected to grow this week.

Some 900 firefighters with a variety of aircraft were in Southwest Colorado, and more were arriving. But so far they have been in an almost completely defensive mode, waiting for the 30- to 40-mile-an-hour afternoon winds – which have grounded aircraft and driven flames – to subside. The fire’s price tag has topped $22 million, and the effort has just begun.

More than 1,000 residents and visitors left homes, cabins and RV parks in South Fork and surrounding areas Friday. As of Monday, no structures were known to have been lost. A shelter set up in nearby Del Norte has 78 guests, said Cindi Shank, director of the Southwest Colorado chapter of the American Red Cross.

Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue has stopped issuing burn permits for slash piles temporarily and is currently not allowing permit-holders to burn piles. Fire officials cited the demands of wildfires across Colorado on the region’s firefighting resources and the constant threat of wildfire in implementing the hiatus on burning. They will reevaluate the ban the second week of July.

A husband and wife who died while trying to flee the Black Forest fire last  week were longtime members of Air Force Space Command, officials said Tuesday. A co-worker said they died trying to protect firefighters by removing   ammunition and propane tanks from their home and loading them into their  car. Their bodies were found in the garage of their home on Jicarilla Drive in Black  Forest, near the area where investigators believe the fire began. Officials said  the doors of their car were open and it appeared they were trying to evacuate.  The home sat on a heavily wooded 2.6-acre lot, according to county records.

A Colorado task force on Monday got down to developing unprecedented limits  for building homes in burn zones after the Black Forest fire raised concerns —  again — that risks and costs are becoming too great. Fees assessed on people who choose to live in forests, mandatory disclosure  of wildfire risks before home sales and tougher building codes  are among   measures that members of  Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Task Force on Wildfire  Insurance and Forest Health are considering.

In just a couple of days time the Black Forest Fire set the record for number of homes destroyed. And now it’s soared to more than 500 homes. The total cost to fight the fire has exceeded $7 million. Director of Public Policy at Headwaters Economics Chris Mehl says that in the only 16 percent of the wildlife urban interface in the 11 western states is developed. “In other words there are many places that are prone to fire that don’t yet have homes on them,” Mehl said. The costs to defend homes from fires is enormously expensive, especially when a home stands alone on several acres of land.

Lake Dillon Fire offers free defensible-space reviews for property owners in the district to ensure that they have adequate area around a building that’s been cleared of flammable vegetation and objects that burn. It allows firefighters to make a stand between an encroaching wildfire and the building.

Firefighters found the bodies of two people in the Black Forest fire’s rubble. The bodies  were discovered in what was the garage of a home that the blaze leveled. They  were next to a car with its doors open. The car’s trunk was packed full of  belongings. The news of the deaths puts tragic punctuation on what is now Colorado’s most  destructive wildfire ever. A Black Forest fire home assessment released at 10:00  p.m. Thursday by El Paso County put the  number of homes destroyed since the fire began Tuesday afternoon at 379.  Last summer’s  Waldo Canyon fire — which burned just about  a dozen miles  southwest of the Black Forest fire — destroyed 347 homes.

The warmer temperatures combined with low humidity, wind and more people in the county enjoying the outdoors could also precipitate an increase in fire danger. After several days without substantial moisture, the risk of wildfire is currently rated moderate, well below the very high and extreme ratings in place at this time last year. But fire officials are still asking the public to be cautious.

Firefighters from Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue, the Red, White and Blue Fire Protection District and Copper Mountain Fire Department are providing relief for the 8,000-acre wildfire in the Black Forest area northeast of Colorado Springs. The fire has destroyed or damaged an estimated 80 to 100 homes and forced the evacuation of some 7,500 people, according to local fire agencies.

By being a Ready, Set, Go! partner you are helping to create a more fire resistant property, you are getting your family prepared for an evacuation and you are leaving early and safely. For more information on the Ready, Set, Go! program or assistance with emergency preparedness, contact your local fire department.

The Black Forest fire has destroyed at least 360 homes and consumed  15,000 acres, making it  the most destructive fire in Colorado history. The evacuation area includes 94,000 acres and 13,000 homes as of Thursday  morning. Some 38,000 people have been evacuated.

  • Royal Gorge fire destroyed several buildings, barn and animals safe 13 June 2013

The  Royal Gorge incline railway building and aerial tram buildings were among 20 buildings destroyed in a fire that ravaged the historic tourist attraction west of  Cañon City. The tram was docked in one of the buildings that  fire reached and its cable fell into the gorge. The Big Horn Lodge, and zip-line  and park ranger buildings on the north side  of the Royal Gorge Bridge are the only buildings that survived a fire that has so far burned 3,100 acres. At least 32 wooden planks on the famed bridge across the gorge were destroyed or severely charred by the fire.

  • Big Meadows wildfire now at 333 acres, zero containment 13 June 2013

Whipped by high winds in rugged, steep terrain, the Big Meadows Fire grew to  about 333  acres and firefighters have not been able to contain any part of the  blaze, officials say. The fire, in Rocky Mountain National Park,  is spreading in a hazardous area  where 80 percent of trees have been ravaged by beetle kill.

Ted Robertson had no idea Tuesday how close the fire was to his home of 22  years  as he packed everything he could think of into his truck, his wife’s Jeep  and his brother-in-law’s motorhome. It was only when embers began raining down and a state trooper pulled into  his driveway, yelling they had 10 minutes to flee, that Robertson realized they  were  literally in the line of fire.

While firefighters work to protect communities from wildfires blazing around the state, federal funds are coming in to help other areas address water pollution caused by fires. Summit County commissioner Dan Gibbs said protecting homes and properties from wildfires is the major objective of local fire crews, but post-fire damage caused to watersheds is also important to consider. “Just because you put out a wildfire, your problems aren’t all solved. In many ways, the challenges have just begun,” Gibbs said. “It creates a challenging situation when you look at drinking water for communities.”

Mandatory evacuations have been issued in central Huerfano County where a  wildfire is burning four miles west of La Veta.

Shifting winds whipped flames through the winding roads and hills of Black  Forest on Wednesday, forcing new evacuations and sending a plume of thick smoke  across the Front Range. Dozens of residents received the news they had been dreading: The Black  Forest fire had destroyed their homes. Others were left with something almost  worse: The agony of not knowing.

Two Keystone Lodge employees ended up in the hospital Wednesday after they inhaled chlorine gas that leaked into a pool facility following an explosion when a chlorinator malfunctioned. Crews from Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue, Red, White and Blue and a High Country Training Center hazardous materials team responded to a report of an explosion at 10 a.m. Wednesday and helped decontaminate the two employees.

If there were a wildfire, would you know what to do? What would you take with you if you had to evacuate your home? How long would it take? Residents who attended the “Ready, Set, Go!” workshop at Colorado Mountain College yesterday have all the information they need to answer these questions with confidence.

Summit County fire officials produce a daily wildfire danger rating through the warmer months to keep the public informed and aware. This year, like last, that daily rating will be posted on Smokey Bear signs and the front page of the Summit Daily to help keep locals and visitors informed. “Our fire danger is not static,” Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue spokesman Steve Lipsher said. “Here in the High Country in a very short period of time we can go from nice, green moist vegetation to an extreme fire hazard. We want to have people aware of that and cognizant of all of their actions that could lead to a wildfire.”

Lake Dillon firefighter Mike Waesche is on a mission to become Colorado Man of the Year in the fundraising campaign for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Waesche, who has been campaigning since November of last year, is in the final stretch, working to raise enough money to reach his $50,000 goal by this weekend.

 

The mock-training was part of a county-wide effort to test response capability and coordination between multiple agencies in the case of a wildfire emergency. “We try to make it as realistic as possible and think about everything you need to do,” said Steve Lipsher, the public affairs coordinator for Lake Dillon Fire Rescue.

Photo credit: Colorado Springs Gazette                                                       

From left to right, Qywla Foutch, Isaac River, Professor Gregory Simon, Professor Anne Chin, and Alejandra Uribe work in the burn scar. The Denver students, along with two professors, are spending the semester studying the environmental impacts of the Waldo Canyon Fire.

 

This spring, the Waldo Canyon fire has come under the microscope of two Denver professors and their five students, who spent the semester studying the environmental and social impacts of the most destructive fire in Colorado history. Two University of Colorado-Denver professors have created a class that meshes two different but ultimately very connected sides of the Waldo Canyon fire – how the fire changed the land and how it changed Colorado Springs.

Even though April was a wet month, an expert says we can’t let our guard down when it comes to wildfires. This year a normal fire season is predicted. “April was great in terms of snowfall in terms of greening up our ecosystems,” said Einar Jensen, life-safety educator with South Metro Fire-Rescue. “It’s been great, but at some point all that great new growth is going to dry out like it does every September and October, and all that extra fuel could easily cause a higher potential for fire this fall.”

The annual emergency preparedness exercise is a practice run, allowing Summit County’s emergency responders to tackle a variety of staged disasters. But this year the drill had a ring of truth to it, as the community and the state, still recovering from a series of devastating wildfires in 2012, again face a dry summer on the edge of a forest devastated by the mountain pine beetle epidemic. Tuesday night’s community meeting was a first. The annual emergency exercise is usually designed exclusively to test and hone the response and coordination abilities of local agencies. This year, it gave the public a chance to prepare as well.

 

Credit: CBS News

Battalion Chief Kelly Wagner coordinates fire crews responding to a mock wildfire.

Firefighters, EMTs, sheriff’s deputies and emergency management personnel gathered for a practice session this week in Summit County to prepare for wildfire season in Colorado. The drill was designed to test the response and communication between departments.

Credit: Breeana Laughlin, Summit Daily News

Emergency scanner chatter swelled as reports of three separate wildfires came through the airwaves yesterday. The reports were fake, but officials throughout the county took them very seriously. The mock-training was part of a county-wide effort to test response capability and coordination between multiple agencies in the case of a wildfire emergency.

The Colorado Forest Service has designed an online tool that allows Summit County residents to assess the wildfire risk in their neighborhoods. The Colorado Wildfire Risk Assessment, or CO-WRAP, allows web visitors to view maps and download information about neighborhoods and watersheds. The portal was created using GIS (geographic information systems) and combines information from fire departments, the National Weather Service, the U.S. Census Bureau and other sources to evaluate the risk of wildfire to individual homes.

Photo credit: Joe Ammons, The Denver Post

Colorado needs to invest in firefighting personnel rather than airplanes. Colorado has a number of state-owned wildland fire engines, from the old state forest service, but not enough personnel to staff them, so these engines are loaned to various local departments around the state for fire suppression.

Summit Daily News file photo

Residents of Frisco, Dillon and Silverthorne may see local firefighters posted outside grocery and hardware stores asking for feedback over the next several weeks as Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue rolls out its first community survey in roughly a decade.

The Colorado Senate gave initial approval to establishing a state firefighting fleet to supplement a fleet managed by the federal government, even though lawmakers have not allocated money for it.

Colorado lawmakers are close to agreement on a slate of insurance changes inspired by homeowners’ complaints after last year’s wildfires. The state Senate gave final approval Monday to a bill aimed at making homeowner insurance easier to use. Changes include giving homeowners more time to file an inventory of the contents of their house after a total-loss claim for reimbursement.

A new batch of heavy-lift, twin-rotor helicopters at Fort Carson will be used to douse wildfires on the post before they grow into wind-whipped infernos.

Like many locals, firefighters with the Red, White and Blue and Lake Dillon districts were thrilled to see the late-breaking snowfall that replenished Colorado’s lagging snowpack. But they’re not calling off preparations for fire season. At best, they said, the snow is buying them time before what is likely to be a long, dry summer.

A state-operated aerial wildfire-fighting fleet (including reconnaissance aircraft, helicopters, and air tankers) is crucial in ensuring Colorado’s wildfire security. The Colorado Firefighting Air Corps amplifies the state’s ability to swiftly identify developing fires, grants rapid response capability in containing growing fires, and provides concentrated suppression in coordination with fire crews in protecting lives, homes, infrastructure and other vulnerable assets from fire.

A review of the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history released Wednesday found much to praise and few problems in the way Colorado Springs agencies responded. It concluded that first responders reacted in an “incredibly professional and heroic manner.” In one day, police and firefighters evacuated 26,000 people and saved 82 percent of the homes in the area directly affected by the fast-moving fire, the report said.

  • In the line of fire: Federal scientists warn of climate change’s devastating impact on Colorado Forests 4 April 2013

The hotter, drier climate will transform Rocky Mountain forests, unleashing wider wildfires and insect attacks, federal scientists warn in a report for Congress and the White House. The U.S. Forest Service scientists project that, by 2050, the area burned each year by increasingly severe wildfires will at least double, to around 20 million acres nationwide. Some regions, including western Colorado, are expected to face up to a fivefold increase in acres burned if climate change continues on the current trajectory.

The Summit County Wildfire Council is once again preparing to award grants for residents who want to remove hazardous fuels and reduce wildfire risks around their homes and neighborhoods. Grant applications will be taken through April 26. The application forms are available online at http://www.co.summit.co.us/extension. Call Dan Schroder at 970-668-4140 for more information.

One year after a state-set fire in Colorado killed three people, the state Legislature has given final approval to a bill raising limits for recovering damages incurred on account of government wrongdoing.

The report and video are based on interviews, field visits and tours of the City’s most affected neighborhoods conducted by the FAC Coalition’s assessment team during a three day visit to the area in July 2012. These new resources share the post-fire field investigation, and stress the importance of communities becoming fire adapted. To read the full report visit: http://www.fireadapted.org.

Persistent drought and an infestation of tree-killing insects have left broad swaths of the USA vulnerable to unusually fierce wildfires for the second straight year just as the U.S. Forest Service is dealing with cuts in its fire-fighting budget. Areas most at risk include Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, the eastern Rockies and Florida, according to the federal government’s most recent fire analysis.

Exactly a year after a prescribed burn exploded into an out-of-control blaze, victims of the Lower North Fork fire are building a case against the state to prove that a pattern of gross negligence led to the deaths of three people and the loss of millions of dollars in property. They point to previous prescribed burns in the same valley below Kuehster Road that escaped or reignited. They say two that occurred in March and October of 2011 should have signaled to the Colorado State Forest Service that burns in the Jefferson County neighborhood were terribly risky.

“In light of the overall environment, which is focused on reducing the federal deficit, fire and emergency service programs fared pretty well,” said Chief Hank Clemmensen, IAFC president and chairman of the board. “By working together to demonstrate the value of these programs, we were able to avert devastating cuts.” This bill will allocate the following amounts for the following fire service programs:

  • U.S. Fire Administration: $41.96 million
  • FIRE grant program: $320.31 million
  • SAFER grant program: $320.31 million
  • Urban Search and Rescue: $33.39 million
  • State Homeland Security Grant Program: $328.95 million
  • Urban Areas Security Initiative: $474.90 million
  • U.S. Department of Interior, Wildland Fire Management: $688.5 million
  • U.S. Forest Service, Wildland Fire Management: $1.846 billion

There is no doubt the coming months are setting up as a potentially serious forest fire season. So, we understand why state lawmakers might be looking at ways of being better prepared. But we’re not sold on the idea of Colorado developing its own aerial firefighting fleet at an estimated cost of $20 million when other firefighting aircraft are available.

 

Sandy Greenhut

From left: Medic Robbie Evans, Summit County arts doyenne Sandy Greenhut, Lt. John Wilkerson and firefighter Aaron Ferdig honor Greenhut’s service to the community on her departure from the county. Photo credit: Mark Fox, Summit Daily News, 15 March 2013

Last year, 50 fires were started in Summit County and while fortunately none became a serious hazard, they could have been. “At any given moment, given the right conditions, … it could become extreme,” Dan Schroder of the CSU Cooperative Extension agency told about 60 people at the second monthly wildfire-prep meeting sponsored by the Healthy Forest Task Force. “Are we ready to combat that?” The main topic of the meeting focused on the importance of defensible space. Defensible space is the area around a home or building that has been modified to reduce the risk of burning due to wildfire.

“Lake Dillon Fire reports a flashing-lights scum alert! An unknown someone, or someones, swiped the U.S. flag flying over Lake Dillon Fire Station No. 12 in Summit Cove earlier this month. How unpatriotic! Lake Dillon Fire also reports a flashing-lights-AND-sirens angel alert!! Local Cub Scout Pack #186, which uses Station No. 12 for its meetings, upon learning of the theft of the flag, offered a replacement so that Old Glory is back to her rightful spot. Merit badges all around, kiddos!”

As weather becomes more extreme across the nation, so does the threat of fire. Fire seasons are becoming longer and fires are growing larger. Weather is the lifeblood of wildland fires. A wind driven fire in dry conditions won’t respect roads, fences, or blocks of homes; it will consume anything combustible that lies in its path. The start and spread of fires is created by the fire triangle—the right combination of fuel, weather, and topography. Give it an ignition source and this combination can be deadly and the results catastrophic.

 

Over the last several years the US Forest Service has developed a wildland fire risk potential map of the lower 48 states. The specific objective of the wildland fire risk potential map is to depict the potential for wildfire that would be difficult for suppression resources to contain, based on past fire occurrence and estimates of wildfire likelihood and intensity from sophisticated fire simulation models. Areas with higher wildland fire risk potential values, therefore, have a higher probability of experiencing high-intensity fire with torching, crowning, and other forms of extreme fire behavior.

  • “A Perfect Storm” of Prevention and Response Sprinklers Pay off for Apartment Building, Restaurant

“All the pieces came together,” says South Metro Fire Marshal Kevin Milan, following the fire code, fire inspections, and emergency response by firefighters. And what could have been a big fire at a Parker apartment buildingwas instead a small fire, with relatively minor damage. “It was a perfect storm that ended with a sprinkle, well, with a sprinkler head activating,” says Milan.During required annual testing of fire prevention systems at the Cherrywood Apartments in Parker, a fire protection contractor found some problems with the system. Upon being notified of the issues, South Metro inspectors took steps to ensure the safety of residents by requiring that the problems be fixed. On January 26, merehours after the issued had been resolved and the fire protection system passed inspection, South Metro crews responded to a water flow alarm at the complex. A water flow alarm indicates a sprinkler head has activated. The smoldering remains of a fire were found in the laundry room of a vacant apartment, where one sprinkler head had activated. “This fire illustrates how the fire code, working fire protection equipment, and a quick response from fire fighters, combine to protect lives and property,” says Milan. The accidental fire started in a ceiling fan and was initially out of reach of the sprinkler system. As the fire grew, it activated the sprinkler, which set off the alarm and got the fire department on scene to investigate and fully extinguish the fire.  “Fire sprinklers are like having fire fighters in house, 24/7,” says Milan.

The value of sprinklers was proven again on Feb. 21 at a restaurant in Lone Tree. A fire extinguisher system in the hood above the stove had failed to contain a serious grease fire. Two sprinkler heads activated and the fire was out shortly thereafter. Meanwhile the manager had called 911 and fire fighters arrived to ensure the fire was out. While it was an inconvenience to customers and employees, no one was hurt and the restaurant is already open again. An uncontrolled fire would have caused damaged that would have taken weeks, even months, to repair.

South Metro Fire Rescue Authority inspectors regularly visit commercial buildings to make sure the fire code is being followed and fire protection systems are working. They are not as noticeable as a big red fire truck but just the same, they are fulfilling the Authority’s mission “to protect lives and preserve property.”

 

  • Policies put more Coloradans at risk 10 March 2014

Photo credit: Michael Kodas, I-News Network                                                                                         

In the past two decades, a quarter million people have moved into Colorado’s red zones — the parts of the state at risk for the most dangerous wildfires. Today, one of every four Colorado homes is in a red zone.

  • Recession slows plans for new Silverthorne fire station 7 March 2013

A property tax increase approved by voters in November will help Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue recover some of the revenue it lost to the recession, but not enough to cover the cost of a new fire station planned in Silverthorne.
Fortunately, the same economic contraction that doused the district’s income also slowed population growth in Silverthorne, buying Lake Dillon some time before demand for services will require the new building to be constructed.

  • Silverthorne council OKs urban renewal plan 1 March 2013

The Silverthorne Town Council unanimously approved an urban renewal plan at its meeting Wednesday night. The initiative to build a vibrant town center, which has been in the works in various incarnations for 17 years, is moving forward. But it comes over the objections of Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue, which will see its property-tax revenues inside the urban renewal district frozen even as new development will require fire department protection. At the town council meeting Wednesday, Lake Dillon Fire chief Dave Parmley voiced concern that added developments would require additional fire department resources without providing additional revenue.

Summit officials call the fire fund, to which county contributes $27,000 a year toward a $1 million account that helps cover the cost of fighting wildfires in Colorado, an “insurance policy,” securing the county’s access to state emergency funds should there be a catastrophic wildfire.

The U.S. Drought Monitor continues to place Summit County, and much of northwestern Colorado, in an extreme drought. Recent snowfall has helped, experts say, but with Colorado snowpack still far behind average and what is shaping up to be the second consecutive dry winter failing to produce the needed moisture, western Colorado may be on its way to another arid summer and dangerous fire season.

The key word at Wednesday’s meeting of the Forest Health Task Force Homeowners Series was preparedness. “We need to get ready. It’s not if we’re going to have a fire, it’s when,” said Brad Piehl, a task force member. Summit County emergency management director Joel Cochran discussed the importance of homeowners and landowners being prepared in case of an emergency. Though people may not want to think about it, risk of danger from a wildfire can quickly become a reality, Cochran said, and this summer looks to have a high probability for potential wildfire danger. While 2012 was one of the driest years on record nationwide, projections show that 2013 may be even worse. Additionally, the natural recurrence pattern in lodgepole pines in regard to fire is every 150 years. According to nature, Summit is due for a fire. Cochran’s focus was on understanding the risks involved in a wildfire situation and being prepared to do what’s necessary to keep property, possessions and, above all else, lives, safe. He discussed evacuation procedures and the need to have supplies ready and quickly available in case homeowners need to leave quickly. Things like important papers, prescriptions, food and clothing are particularly important. Staying informed, Cochran said, will help homeowners know what is going on. Systems like SCAlert, which sends text message updates, help keep the public informed.

“Generally speaking, the mountain pine beetle epidemic in Summit County is definitely declined,” said Cary Green, U.S. Forest Service timber management assistant for the White River National Forest eastern zone. “We haven’t seen any widespread damage since 2009/2010. I think Summit County’s clear in that.”

  • Pine beetle epidemic slows while spruce infestation spikes, new survey says 6 February 2013

The spread of the mountain pine beetle epidemic has slowed dramatically, while the spruce beetle outbreak is expanding.
The mountain pine beetle epidemic expanded by 31,000 acres, down from last year’s reported increase of 140,000 acres. This brings the total infestation to nearly 3.4 million acres in Colorado since the first signs of the outbreak in 1996. Most mature lodgepole pine trees have now been depleted within the initial mountain pine beetle epidemic area. However, the infestation remains active from Estes Park to Leadville.

  • Breckenridge blaze draws 20 firefighters  6 February 2013

Firefighters were able to extinguish a fire that ignited in an unoccupied structure on North Pine Street in Breckenridge early Tuesday morning.

 

  • Governor’s wildfire advisors to include Summit County’s Dan Gibbs 6 February 2013

Summit County Commissioner Dan Gibbs, a former state lawmaker and volunteer wildland firefighter, will serve as a member of the governor’s Wildland and Prescribed Fire Advisory Committee, representing an association of Colorado’s counties. “The advisory committee will work to improve Colorado’s approach to forest health and to develop a long-term strategy for sustaining vital resources,” Gibbs said.

  • Johnson: Fire rekindles memories of a simple life 3 February 2013

A nice recollection of the “Tiltin’ Hilton,” which burned down last week.

 

Slash piles may be burned by state foresters under certain conditions, but more study will be required before Gov. John Hickenlooper is convinced to lift the ban on burns to clear forest undergrowth issued after the Lower North Fork fire last spring. The executive order lifting part of the ban was one of three signed by Hickenlooper Wednesday that aim to reducing risks and losses from fires in the wildland-urban interface, where more than a quarter of Colorado’s population lives.

  • The ‘Tiltin’ Hilton’ up in smoke 30 January 2013

An A-frame residence in Montezuma, known to locals as the “Tiltin’ Hilton,” was destroyed in a fire Tuesday afternoon. No one was injured in the blaze.

For survivors of a 2003 Rhode Island nightclub fire that was one of  the deadliest in U.S. history, the fire in Brazil that killed hundreds  Sunday is the latest in a series of reminders that no matter how far  away, those who ignore the lessons of their tragedy can pay a horrible  cost.

End-of-summer celebrations were in full swing at the Kiss club in the university town of Santa Maria when a band’s pyrotechnic display set fire to the sound-proofed ceiling and started a fire that choked dozens to death and saw dozens more trampled in the ensuing panic. In total, at least 233 died – 120 men and 113 women – while 92 people are still being treated in hospitals, Reuters reported.

After more than a year of discussions and research around a possible merger, Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue and Red, White and Blue Fire Protection District officials have decided to remain independent, the departments announced Thursday.

Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue has seen a rise in carbon monoxide alarms this week, as the use of stoves furnaces and fireplaces — which burn materials that can produce the odorless and invisible, but poisonous gas — increases.

A metro area woman and her husband are crediting a car seat with saving the life of their infant daughter after a horrific rollover crash.

Illustrating the persistence of extraordinary drought conditions in parts of Colorado, the National Weather Service issued a red-flag fire warning for the Rocky Mountain foothills west of Denver north to the Wyoming border and encompassing areas that were scorched by last summer’s High Park Fire. Boulder-based National Weather Service forecaster Mike Baker said the agency decided to post the warning after three wildfires were reported Jan. 24 within the span of an hour.

After an exceptional western fire season that included the largest wildfire ever in New Mexico, the second-largest in Colorado and the largest in Oregon since the 1860s, land managers are starting to brace for another long summer. With parts of the West facing a second consecutive year of drought, there is some concern that 2013 could be even worse than 2012, which ended up ranked third all-time for the amount of land impact by wildfires.

The fire season is growing, and so far with a dry pattern in January is setting up very similar to January 2012. With drought conditions looking like they’ll continue, fire departments are already on high alert. Our own public-information officer, Steve Lipsher, talks with KCNC reporter Jeff Todd about how Lake Dillon Fire is dealing with the ever-longer wildfire season.

The Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control’s preliminary report shows 2012 to have been the most destructive wildfire season on record. The Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs, in particular, saw the most homes lost to wildfire — at least 347. It was the most expensive fire season in terms of insured losses, which total $450 million. And the Lower North Fork Fire resulted in the death of three civilians, the most in state history. In all, 4,167 wildfires were reported, and they destroyed more than 648 structures, killed six civilians, burned more than 384,803 acres and caused at least $538 million in property losses.

The Colorado Springs City Council recently adopted fire codes forged after the  Waldo Canyon fire that are designed to improve the chances that hillside  neighborhoods could withstand a conflagration. For those building in the wildland urban interface — neighborhoods such as  Mountain Shadows that overlap with open space and forest lands — the new codes  require fire resistant siding, composite decking, narrower attic vents, and a  bigger buffer between houses and some vegetation.

Among the reccomendations: The commission believes it is time to explore raising the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act’s current cap on damage recoveries. The tragedy of the Lower North Fork wildfire illustrates the inadequacy of the current cap, which is $600,000 for any single occurrence, regardless of the number of victims and damages from state negligence. The commission recommends that incentives or other encouragement be provided for counties to adopt land-use regulations for development in wildland-urban interface areas that address accessibility, defensible space, fire resistant building materials, and water supply for fire protection. The commission acknowledges that financial incentives may not be budgetarily possible right away, but should be attempted as soon as possible.

 

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