For all of the Aspen Valley's stunning beauty, it's an undeniable fact that fire danger is an ever present part of life in the West. With the Lake Christine Fire raging in the mid-Valley, it's time to brush up on mitigation and pre-evacuation preparation steps. As a community we are fortunate to have an amazing team of emergency responders, doing their best to keep everyone safe. But, according to Parker Lathrop, Aspen Fire Department Deputy Chief/Fire Marshal, "We can't be everywhere at once, so it's important to be responsible for yourself. If you feel unsafe, it's okay to leave. You don't have to wait for a mandatory order to evacuate."
Nikki Lapin, District Administrator for the Aspen Fire Department, says the first thing you should do to stay aware regarding local emergencies is to register for the county notification system, PitkinAlert. When setting up an account, you are able to choose what notifications you receive and indicate your delivery method of choice.
Aspen uses the Ready, Set, Go! community preparedness program for helping to educate the public about fire awareness. The "Ready" portion of the program addresses preparing your house by taking fire mitigation steps throughout the year. Things like keeping grass cut short, moving combustible materials away from structures, and cutting branches from trees and bushes so that they aren't close to buildings will give your house a better chance of surviving a wild fire. The fire department can help explain how to best set up a defensible space.
"Set" refers to creating a "go kit" and action plan, including an evacuation plan and where you will meet with family and friends. Gather important documents (deeds and titles, passport, driver's license), prescription medications, emergency supplies (water, non-perishable foods, clothes, glasses, etc.), and irreplaceable things such as family photos.
When it's time to "Go!" you need to be able to grab your "go kit" and get out the door, without hesitation. As for when to evacuate, if you feel unsafe, it's time to leave, even if your area isn't under mandatory evacuation. The goal is to stay safe.
On July 4, many local residents received a warning about the potential for an extended power outage. Lathrop says while such an outage would be impactful for Aspen, it's not dire.
"Aspen isn't that remote. If an outage happens, you could go over Independence Pass or down valley beyond El Jebel and have power again."
Lathrop says it's important to create a communication plan with family and friends because, in the case of an extended power outage, phone and cellular service would be affected. Again though, those in Aspen have the ability to get somewhere with power and cellular service.
Pre-evacuation Preparation Steps
If you're waiting to see whether or not you'll be evacuated (as in only if you have time, your personal safety is more important than any structure), these checklists from Readyforwildfire.org provide action steps to give your home the best chance of surviving a wildfire.
Home Evacuation Checklist – How to Prepare for Evacuation:
Inside the House
- Shut all windows and doors, leaving them unlocked.
- Remove flammable window shades, curtains and close metal shutters.
- Remove lightweight curtains.
- Move flammable furniture to the center of the room, away from windows and doors.
- Shut off gas at the meter; turn off pilot lights.
- Leave your lights on so firefighters can see your house under smoky conditions.
- Shut off the air conditioning.
- Gather up flammable items from the exterior of the house and bring them inside (patio furniture, children’s toys, door mats, trash cans, etc.) or place them in your pool.
- Turn off propane tanks.
- Move propane BBQ appliances away from structures.
- Connect garden hoses to outside water valves or spigots for use by firefighters. Fill water buckets and place them around the house.
- Don’t leave sprinklers on or water running, they can affect critical water pressure.
- Leave exterior lights on so your home is visible to firefighters in the smoke or darkness of night.
- Put your Emergency Supply Kit in your vehicle.
- Back your car into the driveway with vehicle loaded and all doors and windows closed. Carry your car keys with you.
- Have a ladder available and place it at the corner of the house for firefighters to quickly access your roof.
- Seal attic and ground vents with pre-cut plywood or commercial seals.
- Patrol your property and monitor the fire situation. Don’t wait for an evacuation order if you feel threatened.
- Check on neighbors and make sure they are preparing to leave.
- Locate your pets and keep them nearby.
- Prepare farm animals for transport and think about moving them to a safe location early.