With summer coming to an end and Summit County receiving decent amounts of rain, the threat of wildfires may seem diminished. However, Summit County wants to remind residents that staying prepared for wildfires is crucial, which is why it will be hosting a Community Wildfire Preparedness Fair this month.
The fair, set for Saturday, Sept. 28, is a joint effort by Summit County, Park City and the Park City Fire District. It is free to all and will cover topics such as how to create defensible space and what to have in an emergency evacuation kit.
Ken Ludwig, the Wildland Urban Interface Coordinator with the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, will be addressing residents on how to create defensible space.
"We'll be bringing in a defensible space trainer, teaching people how to remove fuels, which ones to leave," Ludwig said. "When we talk about fuel reduction around a home, we don't just talk about clearing everything out it's about thinning out the trees, breaking up the fuels."
Educating homeowners on planting 'Firewise' plants is also one of Ludwig's goals. These include plants that are not as susceptible to fire, as they can contain low amounts of volatile oils, have greater moisture and are more compact and low to the ground.
"If the communities are interested in this, we can do a community wildfire protection plan, which will allow us as a state to help with the chipping of fuels and providing a clean-up bay to get rid of fuels," Ludwig said.
Examples of plants that are much more flammable and thus not recommended in areas of wildfire risk include scrub oak (oak brush), juniper, spruce and dry annual grasses such as cheatgrass.
"Some types of fuels if [homeowners clear out] 35 feet around their home, they're in pretty good shape. On a slope, you need 50 to 100 feet," Ludwig said. "Different types of building materials on your house can make a difference on the safety of your home as well."
Literature on what types of plants and building materials homeowners can use will be provided at the fair, but Ludwig added that every home in every area can be approached differently depending on the situation.
"We want the fire to stay on the ground, away from brush and trees," Ludwig said. "The key thing is what the landowner can do that's what it all boils down to."
Preparing for emergencies
The Nitro-Pak Preparedness Center, based out of Heber, will also be at the preparedness fair talking about how residents can prepare themselves for an emergency evacuation specifically, what to have in an emergency 'bug-out kit.'
A bug-out kit is a portable bag that contains items required to survive for 72 hours after evacuating from a disaster, and can contain items such as non-perishable food, water, a first-aid kit and a fire-starting tool.
Nitro-Pak IT Manager Aaron Curley said that oftentimes individuals don't remember items such as these when evacuating.
"These are your essentials and your must-haves. A lot of people leave in such a hurry they don't think of the basic, everyday needs an extra pair of clothing, having fresh water, something to eat and a first-aid kit," Curley said.
Even though Summit County is not as much at risk for flooding, Curley said he will use the current flooding situation in Colorado as an example of what people can do to prepare for a disaster.
"Every area has its own risks of what could happen. You have to prepare for what kinds of risks [are present] in where you live," Curley said.
Summit County Emergency Manager Kevin Callahan said that Summit County is ranked second in the state in terms of wildland fire risk. Around $1 billion of total property value is at risk in the county, he added.
"We've been fortunate that we have not had severe fires like some of our neighboring states," Callahan said. "This [Rockport] fire showed that in the right circumstances, any area is subject to significant wildland fire hazard."
Callahan urges Summit County residents to come to the preparedness fair to figure out exactly what they need to do to reduce their risk during a wildfire, as he says it is in "their interest to do so."
"We're kind of in the crosshairs for fire," Callahan said. "People don't need to panic about it, but they need to be smart and try to figure out what they can do to put themselves in the best possible shape in the event there is a fire."
The Summit County Community Wildfire Preparedness Fair will be held Saturday, Sept. 28, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Park City Fire District Station at 736 Bitner Rd. The fair is free and will also include children's activities, food, vendors, a wildland trailer tour and a free family preparedness guide.