Garfield County fire officials getting ahead of wildfire preparedness | PostIndependent.com

Garfield County fire officials getting ahead of wildfire preparedness

Extremely low snowpack in the high country this spring has area fire districts thinking wildfire season preparedness a lot sooner than usual.

Then again, it's never too soon to plan ahead for the inevitable hot, dry summer months to come, says Glenwood Springs Fire Chief Gary Tillotson.

The Glenwood Fire Department is partnering with the neighboring Colorado River Fire Rescue to present a community wildfire preparedness and information day to educate residents about what they can do to be ready.

Colorado River Fire Rescue will host its event from 10 a.m. to noon this Saturday, April 14, at the Silt Fire Station. And from 2-4 p.m. that same day, the city of Glenwood Springs hosts a wildfire preparedness event at the Community Center.

"The combination of a low snowpack and an expected dry, hot summer puts Glenwood Springs and surrounding areas at a greater risk for wildfires this summer," Tillotson said.

"This is a chance to get folks to come out and learn what they can do to make their houses and property more fire resistant," he said.

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The Fire Department will provide information about what individuals can do to help prevent wildfires from starting, and what to do if a wildfire occurs. There will be special speakers, and handouts will include information on home fire-resilience strategies, evacuation preparation, drought and water use information.

Prior to the weekend rains in the valley and snow up high, the state's snowpack had shrunk to just 66 percent of normal for early April, according to the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture snow survey report

Recent rains in the valley areas and snow up high has helped the drought situation, for now. But that can change quickly once warmer temperatures hit, especially if accompanied by long dry periods, Tillotson said.

Similar advance preparations were made during the last low-snowpack year in 2012, though regular rains throughout the late spring and early summer helped to lessen the fire danger.

But it didn't hurt to be ready, and one can never count on the rains to come, Tillotson advised.

David Boyd, public information officer for the area Bureau of Land Management Office, which is part of the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit, agreed.

"It's important to remember that we have wildfires out here every year, whether it is supposed to be a 'good' year or a 'bad' year," Boyd said.

"People need to be careful with fire all the time and will benefit from taking steps to reduce wildfire risk on their property regardless of what the spring brings," he said. "It's important for people to know the information being presented at the wildfire preparedness events, and it applies every year."

The BLM has also begun collecting moisture samples in area vegetation earlier than usual to start to gauge the affects of the dry winter.

"We did take some samples last week, which is about a month earlier than we typically do," Boyd said. "We are starting to see some green-up, but we don't know how that compares to other years at this time because we haven't sampled this early before."

Over the weekend, remote weather stations in the area all received more than an inch of rain, "which is considerable," he said.

"We'll need to see how the rest of the spring goes, but some additional moisture won't hurt," Boyd said.

The info day Saturday is intended to be a family-friendly event, Tillotson said. Speakers and informational handouts will be located inside the Community Center, and firetrucks will be on display outside, and complimentary ice cream will be served.

"If you cannot attend either of these events, be sure to look for similar events in your area, or contact your local fire agency for more information," the city said in a news release.