Due to the late snowstorms, above normal snowpack and recent rain showers, Grand County’s wildfire season is off to a late start. The fire outlook is predicted to be “normal” for the summer months, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
The Fire Center states a repeat of the 2012 fire season — which brought about significant fire events as close as Estes Park — is unlikely. “However, we cannot become complacent in 2013, as average fire seasons still have periods of increased fire potential and large fires,” said Schelly Olson, public information officer for the Grand Fire Protection District No.1.
Northern Colorado may not be out of the woods yet for the upcoming fire season. Local fire officials warn the potential for wildfires still exists. It is the responsibility of the individual to be prepared for wildland fire events, they say.
“If you have a dry spell, hot weather, low relative humidity and high winds, if all of those factors align with a source of ignition, you could have a high intensity fire,” said Mike Long, fire chief for the Grand Lake Fire Protection District.
“People always ask me, ‘What do I do if I get caught in a fire?’” Long said. “The best thing you can do is be prepared for it.”
Currently, the potential for local wildfires is estimated to be at moderate, according to Todd Camm, a fire management officer with the U.S. Forest Sulphur Ranger District, which oversees the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and the Pawnee National Grassland.
A high density of standing dead and “crashing,” a term used to describe standing dead trees that are beginning to fall over, lodgepole pine trees in the area will keep the danger of wildfires relatively higher this season.
“What we’re heading into is about the 10- to 14-year mark (after trees have been killed by the bluestain fungus, the disease carried by the Mountain Pine Beetle), where the root systems start to rot and the trees fall over and end up looking like pick-up sticks,” Long said. “That will give you a high intensity ground fire.”
Long compared a high intensity fire to a campfire with a large amount of fuel, which releases a large amount of energy. “The more fuel you put on a campfire, the more energy it releases,” he said. “There is a direct correlation between energy release and the amount of water it takes to extinguish a fire.”
The danger of dead trees toppling over doesn’t only pose fire risk, it also presents a risk to recreationalists who may be out enjoying the forests.
There has been a large amount of mitigation work completed in areas of Grand County to remove some of the dead pine trees that could potentially put communities and resources at risk. Projects will continue this year.
Be wildfire ready
Local agencies have pulled together to push for public education in relation to the wildfire potential in the area, teaching families how to be prepared for wildfire.
“The big push is to have people take personal responsibility,” Long said. “That is where the greatest work will be achieved.”
The Grand County Commissioners recently named June 3-9 as Grand County Wildfire Awareness Week. The week will be dedicated to educating the public on the dangers wildfires present and how individuals and families can prepare.
There will be multiple opportunities to attend meetings across the county during the week to learn how to be prepared for a wildfire. The Grand County Firefighters Association is currently seeking volunteers to help out with the program.
Grand County Wildfire Awareness Week is not the only opportunity to prepare for wildfire. Individuals can learn what steps should be taken to help protect homes from the danger of wildfire, how to be prepared if a wildfire does take place, and what the current wildfire potential is by contacting local fire protection districts or by utilizing resources offered by the area’s fire officials.
“We need to create a Fire Safe Council or similar Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) citizen advisory council to promote the message of shared responsibility and the importance of being prepared,” Olson said. Olson is the founder of “Be Wildfire Ready,” a nonprofit, community-based educational outreach program for the residents and visitors of Grand County. The group consists of members from local, state, and federal government agencies, all of the local fire districts, homeowner groups, local businesses, and concerned citizens.
With the help of the Grand County Firefighters Association, Three Lakes Watershed Association, the Grand Lake Rotary and Neils Lunceford Landscaping, the group launched a new website called BeWildfireReady.org. The website is a one-stop-shop for comprehensive information about wildfire preparedness on the local level.
The purpose of this campaign is to raise awareness about the threats of wildfire, and to empower property owners to work together to reduce that threat to their homes and community. Another function of the program is to serve as an outlet for visitors on the importance of fire safety and obeying any fire restrictions that may be in effect in Grand County. This can make permanent residents feel safer in their communities.
Other resources are the Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPP) for Grand County and each of the fire districts, available at any of the local firehouses. Such plans stress that landowners and homeowners must take responsibility as key players in mitigation.
“(Residents) cannot depend on public resources alone to protect them,” Olson said. “We believe our education efforts will help them be successful.”
Reid Tulley can be reached at 970-887-3334