For all of the Roaring Fork 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, suggests that one of the first things you should do is register for the county notification system, PitkinAlert. When setting up an account, you can choose which notifications you receive andyour delivery method of choice.
Aspen uses the Ready, Set, Go! community preparedness program to help educate the public about fire awareness. The "Ready" portion addresses fire mitigation steps to take throughout the year: 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. 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 a spot to meet up 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. 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 a potential 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 downvalley beyond El Jebel and have power again."
She adds that it's important to create a communication plan with family and friends since phone and cellular service would be affected during a power outage.
Pre-Evacuation Preparation Steps
If you're waiting to see whether or not you'll be evacuated, read through these checklists from Readyforwildfire.org to give your home the best chance of surviving a wildfire.
Inside the House
- Shut all windows and doors, leaving them unlocked.
- Remove flammable window shades and 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 at night.
- Put your emergency supply kit in your vehicle.
- Back your car into the driveway with the vehicle loaded and all doors and windows closed. Carry your car keys with you.
- Place a ladder at the corner of your house for firefighters to quickly access the roof.
- Seal attic and ground vents with precut 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.