The Park Record editorial, June 13-15, 2012
Summit County residents should be keeping a wary eye on the raging wildland fire burning near Fort Collins, Colorado. The same hair-trigger fire conditions exist in our own forests and outlying subdivisions.
Colorado firefighters believe the High Park fire, which has consumed 43,000 acres in just four days and has yet to be contained, was ignited by a lightning strike. But the fact that it was not human-caused is little comfort for those whose homes have been destroyed and the hundreds of residents who have been evacuated. And it should be a frightening warning to everyone who lives or recreates in our cherished undeveloped open spaces.
According to a spokesperson for the Uinta Wasatch Cache National Forest, which overlaps Summit County’s eastern border, the fire danger throughout Utah is high. Thick undergrowth nurtured by the wet winter in 2010-2011, followed by this winter’s drought and hot windy spring, is now tinder dry and just waiting for an excuse to light up.
Forest officials, too, have been looking over their shoulders at Colorado and are likely to issue tighter restrictions on campfires later this week. Fireworks are already prohibited on all national forest lands, and in view of the extreme fire danger, should be outlawed on all public lands.
Regardless of the regulations, or lack thereof, property owners and visitors should take a lesson from our neighbors to the east and exercise their own common-sense restraints. Some suggestions include: lighting fires only in established fire pits, using spark arresters on all backcountry motorized vehicles, and not using firearms where a stray bullet could start a fire.
Residents and visitors should also keep an eye on the horizon for smoke and watch for any reckless behavior in and around forested areas. Call 911 immediately if you spot a brush fire and be ready to give dispatch information about the location as precisely as possible.
Homeowners should take more drastic precautions with a top priority on creating a defensible space around their homes. That entails removing potential fuels like tree branches and shrubs and having an evacuation plan.
Living in the mountains means having to live with the threat of forest fires. Like those who live in hurricane- or tornado-prone areas, we need to acknowledge the eminent dangers specific to our own climate and be prepared. We are approaching the heart of fire season and one person’s careless misstep could cost lives and hundreds of thousands of dollars of property damage. While we may not be able to prevent forest fires, we can take steps to minimize the risks.
For more information about how to protect yourself and your property, go to: http://www.firewise.org
Anita Lewis, Brent Ovard and Travis English were influential in shaping how residents interact with the county.