Vail Fire and Emergency Services is reminding residents that the threat of wildfire remains high throughout the fall until substantial snow covers the ground for the winter. The recent Brush Creek Fire north of Silverthorne in Summit County is a “good reminder not to let our guard down,” says Paul Cada, Vail’s wildland program administrator. While most people think of wildland fires as a summertime hazard, Cada says there are two primary fire seasons in the valley. The first is late June through mid-July when conditions are especially hot and dry. The second season is from mid-September until the ground is substantially covered with snow.
Cada would like to remind property owners that a number of services are provided to the community free of charge to help residents prepare for a wildland fire. These services include a free, no obligation, consultation of your property, including steps you can take to improve the safety and survivability of your home in the event of a wildfire. In addition the department provides a free curbside chipping program to assist property owners with the disposal of branches and small trees removed for fire mitigation. The curbside program runs through Oct. 27 and will return next June.
The Brush Creek Fire which began on Oct. 2 and burned 238 acres over seven days was the largest fire in Summit County in the last 100 years and forced the closure of U.S. Highway 9 for a short time. There were no injuries and no structures were lost. The cause of the fire was determined to be lightning in a pine beetle-killed stand.
A four -person crew from Vail Fire assisted in the Brush Creek Fire response which included more than 100 responders from nine agencies throughout the region. Cada says one of the lessons firefighters took away from this fire was how easy it was to protect nearby homes because of the exceptional mitigation work the homeowners had completed prior to the fire. The approach the property owners took was to protect their structures as a first step and then to work outwards.
He says many of these homes were made of ignition-resistant materials such as metal roofs. Other materials included use of stone and heavy wood siding. In some instances, patios had been built instead of overhanging decks. Additionally, the landscaping around most of the homes was pulled back from the house and well-manicured. While the flames were stopped before they could spread to homes in the evacuation area, there was the potential for spot fires to be ignited near the homes from blowing embers. One of Vail’s responders, Eric Wasdorp, engine boss, described the homes as “by far some of the most easily defendable homes I have experienced in my fire career.” Cada says similar examples exist in Vail, although in smaller numbers.
While significant resources were used to contain the wildfire, Cada says the aftermath of the Brush Creek Fire will also have a long-term beneficial impact in that it will regenerate some old and unhealthy aspen stands and will allow more grass to grow in critical elk wintering area.
For more information, about Vail’s wildfire mitigation programs, contact Cada at 970-477-3475.