Only you: fire prevention tips for Glenwood Springs residents and visitors alike
When it comes to fire danger in the Glenwood Springs area, the local fire department has a few tips for folks so all can mitigate potential threats.
“We live in a fire-prone area, so we have a risk of wildlife year-round,” said Glenwood Springs Fire Chief Gary Tillotson. “But current local conditions are an important thing to check.”
Tillotson advised that visitors and locals alike should always check for current fire restrictions on the Garfield County and Glenwood Springs city websites.
For example, Tillotson said there’s a restriction on the use of fireworks in Garfield County and within Glenwood Springs city limits.
“If they’re coming to the area with the intention of camping that’s the first thing they should do,” Tillotson said. “It’d be ideal if they could check (on restrictions) before they even got here.”
Tillotson also gave a checklist of items to have on hand for those planning on having a recreational fire.
“If they’re camping, they need to have buckets they can fill with water in the event of a campfire, they need to have a shovel with them and any fire extinguisher would be good,” Tillotson said.
Greg Bak, fire protection analyst with the Glenwood Springs Fire Department, said dispersed camps in particular can see fires quickly get out of control because of the winds and dry materials within and surrounding the campsite.
Tillotson echoed Bak, noting recreational fires should have a 25-foot radius from any flammable material, noting that certain types of vegetation have varying degrees of flammability. But it’s the wind, Tillotson said, that poses a huge fire threat.
“A gust of wind can move embers and move that flaming material way beyond that 25 feet. Embers are probably the biggest risk of spread of fire,” Tillotson said.
Bak said the fire department is called out monthly to at least one campfire that gets out of control.
“It’s hard to quantify. There aren’t a lot of camping spots right in the Glenwood area. You’ve got the private campground out by No Name, and Amy’s Acres is within our area,” Bak said.
“Those are the official places to camp. We seem to run into more trouble with the unofficial places, depending on whose camping and when.”
For campfires in a person’s backyard, having a fire hose handy works just as well as having five gallon buckets on hand.
Tillotson said for those camping in primitive campsites, having two buckets filled with water already is the safest way to go about it.
“Because when the wind comes or campers feel like they need to extinguish a fire, the buckets are sitting there empty,” Tillotson said.
“By the time you get to the creek and back things can get really bad really quick. So having those buckets already full of water is key.”
Tillotson said to gauge whether to have one filled bucket or two filled buckets on hand by how dry the conditions are and the fire’s proximity to a water source.
Whether a person is extinguishing a fire because of an emergency or if it’s simply just time to leave the campsite, Bak said to ensure to pour water on the fire, stir the pile of ash, then pour some more so ensure the ash is uniformly wet.
The next step is to smother the fire with sandy soil, Bak said, but warned that it’s important to double check what’s in the dirt before piling it onto the fire.
“If you’re thinking about a remote camp site and you have a lot of pine needles lying around, that’s still burnable fuel,” Bak said.
“Combinations of all types of organic material—it can be a foot thick. You think you’re walking on dirt but you’re not. It’s burnable stuff.”
Tillotson said hikers who come across a smouldering fire and have cell service or GPS capabilities should record the location coordinates then alert 911.
Mina Bolton, administrative assistant for the Glenwood Springs Fire Department, said recording your location while out camping or wherever there’s the threat of a fire is crucial.
“If a fire were to get out of hand, report it immediately and know where you are so we have an accurate location,” Bolton said.
“Timing is critical for us to respond, so if we’re somewhere on the Flat Tops it’s a lot harder for us to pinpoint the best approach.”
Tillotson also explained the danger of parking a vehicle in tall grass.
“One of the biggest dangers is a vehicle with a hot catalytic converter. A vehicle that’s hot and you parked it in some tall, dry grass—that hot catalytic converter can actually start a fire underneath the vehicle,” Tillotson said.
“I know there are plenty of locations around us where you could park in some pretty tall grass and start a fire.”
Residents within the Glenwood Springs Fire Protection District may also have a more limited time frame to get the permits necessary for open burning.
“We allow open burning outside of recreational fires during certain times of the year,” Tillotson said.
Tillotson said a homeowner wanting to burn tree limbs or trimmings that have accumulated over the winter months would be the one who would be to get an air quality permit from the state and another permit from their local fire organization before lighting the match.
“Some people opt to have a larger sized pile when they clean up their yard and burn that,” Tillotson explained.
“That’s open burning as opposed to recreational fires. Historically, we’ve restricted the open burning operations between Memorial Day and Labor Day because that’s the height of the dangerous season.”
This year, Tillotson said the Glenwood Springs Fire Department will likely stop issuing open burn permits by May 1 due to current drought conditions and fuel moisture levels.
Bak said it can be difficult for visitors, or even Glenwood Springs residents, to understand how to interpret and act on fire restrictions.
“Different agencies that have responsibilities over different areas might have different restrictions,” Bak said.
The elevation of Glenwood Springs is around 5,300 feet, which creates much dryer and warmer conditions than areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management sitting at an elevation of 8,000 feet.
Tillotson said there’s actually two types of federally owned land in the area.
“We have a lot of BLM land that’s lower lying sage and oak brush, which dry a lot differently and faster. Then you move up to the higher elevations, which are primarily our national forest lands,”Tillotson said.
“The National Forest Service, as an organization, is oftentimes one of the last ones to go into fire restrictions because of the elevation, fuel humidity and lower nighttime temperatures.”
Both Tillotson and Bak urged residents within and on the outskirts of Glenwood Springs to clear the brush away from their properties as a fire prevention and mitigation method.
Folks should start with the house itself, which includes the home’s perimeter outwards of five feet.
“Science tells us this is the most important zone to take immediate action on as it is the most vulnerable to embers,” safety materials provided by Bolton state.
Bolton also urged folks to sign up or update their account information on Garfield County’s reverse 911 program. The reverse 911 website is https://garco911.com/.
Homeowners are advised to start with the house itself then move into the landscaping areas.
• Clean roofs and gutters of dead leaves, debris and pine needles that could catch embers.
• Replace or repair any loose or missing shingles or roof tiles to prevent ember penetration.
• Reduce embers that could pass through vents in the eaves by installing 1/8 inch metal mesh screening.
• Clean debris from exterior attic vents and install 1/8 inch metal mesh screening to reduce embers.
• Repair or replace damaged or loose window screens and any broken windows Screen or box-in areas below patios and decks with wire mesh to prevent debris and combustible materials from accumulating.
• Move any flammable material away from wall exteriors – mulch, flammable plants, leaves and needles, firewood piles – anything that can burn. Remove anything stored underneath decks or porches.
In the area five to 30 feet from a home’s perimeter, landscaping and breaks can help influence and decrease fire behavior, according to the materials.
• Clear vegetation from under large stationary propane tanks.
• Create fuel breaks with driveways, walkways/paths, patios, and decks.
• Keep lawns and native grasses mowed to a height of four inches.
• Remove ladder fuels (vegetation under trees) so a surface fire cannot reach the crowns. Prune trees up to six to ten feet from the ground; for shorter trees do not exceed 1/3 of the overall tree height.
• Space trees to have a minimum of eighteen feet between crowns with the distance increasing with the percentage of slope.
• Tree placement should be planned to ensure the mature canopy is no closer than ten feet to the edge of the structure.
• Tree and shrubs in this zone should be limited to small clusters of a few each to break up the continuity of the vegetation across the landscape.
Reporter Shannon Marvel can be reached at 605-350-8355 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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