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Preparing for Wildfire in Ken-Caryl

A wildfire is an unplanned, unwanted fire burning in a natural area, such as a forest, grassland or prairie. As building development expands into these areas of the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), homes sited in these areas are susceptible to wildfires. Wildfires can damage natural resources, destroy homes and threaten the safety of the public and the firefighters who protect our homes.

Wildfires can occur at any time throughout the year along the Front Range, but the potential is always higher during periods with little or no rainfall, which make brush, grass and trees dry and burn more easily. High winds, as are seen within Ken-Caryl, can also contribute to spreading the fire.

Wildfires can occur anywhere in the country, but the Front Range of Colorado has seen significant wildfire activity in the past few years. Ken-Caryl falls within the WUI and has fuels, topography and home placement similar to other areas impacted by fire in Colorado. Wildfires can start in remote wilderness areas, in national parks or even in your backyard. Wildfires can start from natural causes, such as lightning, but most are caused by humans, either accidentally—from cigarettes, campfires or outdoor burning—or intentionally.

The destruction caused by wildfires depends on the size of the fire, the landscape, the amount of fuel—such as trees and structures—in the path of the fire, and the direction and intensity of the wind.

– Wildfires can cause death or injury to people and animals.
– Structures may be damaged or destroyed.
– Transportation, gas, power, communications and other services may be disrupted.
– Flying embers can set fire to buildings more than a mile away from the wildfire itself.
– Smoke can cause health issues for people, even for those far away from the fire.
– Extensive acreage can be burned, damaging watersheds and critical natural areas.
– Flash flooding and mudslides can result from fire damage to the surrounding landscape.
– Wildfires can affect the land for many years, including causing changes to the soil that increase the risk of future floods.

Defensible Space
Your goal now, before a fire happens, is to make your home and the surrounding area more resistant to catching fire and burning. This means reducing the amount of material that can burn easily in and around your home by clearing away debris and other flammable materials, and using fire-resistant materials for landscaping and construction.

Insurance
Review your homeowners or renters insurance policy to ensure that you have adequate coverage for your property and personal belongings.

Fire Weather Warnings
The National Weather Service (NWS) issues notices when weather conditions such as strong wind, low relative humidity and high temperatures make wildfires more likely. During these dangerous periods, NWS urges everyone to use extreme caution because a simple spark in open space grass can cause a major wildfire.
The NWS issues a fire weather watch when potentially dangerous fire weather conditions are possible over the next 12 to 72 hours. NWS issues a fire weather warning or red flag warning when fire danger exists and weather patterns that support wildfires are either occurring or expected to occur within 24 hours.

Evacuation
When a wildfire threatens your area, the best action to protect yourself and your family is to evacuate early to avoid being trapped. Ken-Caryl has a limited number of roads to handle an emergency evacuation, and your normal route may not be accessible due to the wildfire. If there is smoke, drive carefully because visibility will be reduced. Keep your headlights on and watch for other vehicles and fleeing wildlife or emergency vehicles working in the area.

If the danger is imminent, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office may issue an evacuation notice to alert residents that a fire is nearby and it is important to leave the area. Evacuation orders vary by from simple notification of fire in the area to a request for immediate evacuation. If you are concerned about fire activity in the area do not wait for an evacuation notice – prepare your home, family and pets and consider evacuating to a safe location.

Talk with your family about a safe location to meet following evacuation – consider the home of friends or family in another part of the Denver Metro area. A communications plan is also very important. Identify a contact such as a friend or relative who lives out-of-state for household members to notify they are safe. Be sure every member of your family knows the phone number and has a cell phone or other way to access the number. Text messaging may be more effective in a wildfire emergency situation. Text messages can often get around network disruptions when a phone call might not be able to get through overloaded phone lines.

Wildfire Evacuation Exercise in Ken Caryl
The May 21 wildfire response and voluntary evacuation exercise will prepare the Ken-Caryl community for a major wildland fire. The safety of Ken-Caryl residents, firefighters and law enforcement during the exercise is critical. Proactive preparation for a wildfire event enhances the safety of all.

This article appeared in the March 23, 2016 issue of Life at Ken-Caryl.

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