Mike McKibbin

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June 20, 2012
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Fire danger demands attention and action

Amazed, horrified, shocked. Those are some of the words I've used to describe what I've felt as I watched the huge plumes of thick smoke rise hundreds of feet in the air, while dancing flames leapt from tree to tree up steep mountain slopes.

Even more, I've seen blackened earth all around someone's nice, mountain home, which stands unharmed.

These scenes again played out before me when I turn on TV and see the latest shots of the High Park fire west of Fort Collins, the state's most destructive to homes in history. It's personal to me, because my uncle and his wife built their mountain dream home in the hills that are now on fire.

So far, they've managed to avoid evacuations that sent their neighbors racing down the road. Who knows how long their luck will last.

That could be said for any of us this summer. We haven't had a major wildfire in this neck of the woods so far, but who knows if that will continue.

Like many people around here, I keep thinking of the summer of 2002 as the last time we saw fire danger this high or watched as flames burned through the Colorado mountains, including around part of Glenwood Springs. It was dry, hot and windy when the Coal Seam fire started.

That's what I recalled again the other day, when the White River National Forest and Bureau of Land Management said they were going to impose Stage 2 fire restrictions as of tomorrow, Friday.

That means no fires or campfires. Enclosed camp stoves are still permitted, but should be used with extreme care.

No smoking outdoors. Smoking allowed only inside a car or building.

No possession or use of fireworks of any kind, which were earlier banned by Gov. John Hickenlooper across the state.

But what really perked up my attention was this quote in the Post Independent, by White River Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams:

"'We will be at Stage 2 for the foreseeable future. But if we don't see a change in the weather conditions, we may be looking at Stage 3 restrictions,' Fitzwilliams said. Under Stage 3, public lands would be closed to everyone except firefighters and leaseholders."

That's something I never even considered in the summer of 2002, let alone hear coming from a federal land manager with access to the numbers that prove how dry and dangerous it is to light a match. Not being allowed on public lands because it's too dangerous.

Awe is another word you can use to describe the power of Mother Nature. Over 1,800 firefighters, huge aircraft that drop fire retardant and helicopters dropping water can only make very slow progress due to the weather, along with all the tens of thousands of acres of beetle-killed, tinder dry trees. The White River Forest has plenty of those, too.

We all need to start a habit of ensuring we don't do anything that might start a wildfire. My main reason to keep focused on prevention is keyed to three words: Storm King Mountain.

No one around here will ever forget that 1994 tragedy that took the lives of 14 federal firefighters outside Glenwood Springs, doing just what those thousands of brave men and women are doing now on the other side of the Continental Divide.

So there's one more thing we should all do this summer: Send our prayers, well wishes and appreciation to those folks, as well as the people forced out of their homes. May God bless them, and us.

Mike McKibbin is the editor of The Citizen Telegram.

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The Post Independent Updated Jun 20, 2012 06:38PM Published Jun 20, 2012 06:37PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.