Editorial: Tollgate Fire shows the risk we face in Summit County
Given the threat fires present annually in Summit County, residents should have been prepared by the time wildfire season arrived.
This week offered a perfect example of why. On Monday, a brush fire tore through Tollgate Canyon. It quickly grew to nearly 300 acres as winds complicated the suppression efforts, forcing a handful of evacuations and threatening to reach Interstate 80. By the end of the day, the situation was under control thanks to a swift multi-agency firefighting response. After some timely assistance from Mother Nature in the middle of the week, the blaze was 90 percent contained on Friday morning, and all crews had been released.
We are grateful the fire did not destroy any homes or cause any loss of life, but it was nonetheless a frightening display of how indiscriminate and destructive wildfires can be and of how quickly one can spread in the dry vegetation that blankets Summit County this time of year. An alternate scenario in which the roughly 400 homes in the Tollgate area were in serious danger is easy to imagine.
The community was fortunate to make it through the July holidays without incident, but the blaze shows that a wildfire season that has sown devastation in other areas of the state — and in the broader Mountain West region — is not over.
For residents, that means we must continue taking every precaution to avoid setting off a blaze, including strictly adhering to the fire restrictions that remain in effect through much of the county. It only takes one lapse in judgment to start a fire. And in the dry conditions officials expect to persist through the end of summer, disaster could follow.
Given the unpredictable nature of wildfires, though, residents also must plan for the worst. Families should have emergency plans in place and should be familiar with any alternate routes they can use to flee their neighborhoods if a fire makes the roads they usually take impassable. It would also be a wise idea to keep a police scanner — or download a smartphone app that performs the same function — around for up-to-the-minute information in the event of an emergency.
With a spell of luck — and maybe a few more rain showers — we won’t need to act on the preparation. Hopefully, the Tollgate blaze is the worst we’ll see this wildfire season. After a fresh reminder of the threat we face, though, that’s not an outcome any of us should be counting on.
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