Guest opinion: Planning for safe, FireWise summers
Most of us look forward to summer as a time to relax and enjoy the outdoors with our families.
Sadly, the fear and danger of wildfires has become an increased summer concern here on the Western Slope. Doing everything we can as individuals to prepare for potential wildfires and knowing what actions our elected officials are taking to safeguard our families will help set our minds at ease so we can continue to enjoy summer in this beautiful part of our state.
One simple step we can take is to register our up-to-date contact information with the county’s Emergency Notification System (garco911.com). Each family member who is capable of responding responsibly to an emergency should register.
Local fire departments also encourage every family to complete the “Ready, Set, Go!” incident action plan. Introductory information can be found on the Glenwood Springs Fire Department website. Google “Ready, set, go! Ready for Wildfire” to find detailed instructions in both English and Spanish developed by a California fire department.
CSU’s FireWise Construction: Site Design & Building Materials brochure is an excellent resource for current and prospective property owners, available through the Garfield County Community Development webpages or by searching the Web. We urge the county commissioners to promote these guidelines and make them more easily accessible on the county’s home page.
Our elected officials could also take actions to reduce the likelihood of a wildfire starting in the first place. Over 80% of wildfires in the U.S. are started by humans. Prioritizing wildfire education and passing ordinances like those adopted elsewhere in the country could help prevent future incidents.
The county commissioners made a move in the right direction with their ban on the use of fireworks this year. However, they dropped the ball by creating an exception to that ban May 31 to July 5, one of the driest periods of the year.
Colorful fireworks stands tempt people to buy and use fireworks. The commissioners have already approved permits for firework sales this year. Let’s ask them to commit now to a more proactive plan for the future: no permits for firework sales any year when local fire officials consider drought conditions to be extreme, or worse.
The U.S. Drought Monitor has designated the majority of Garfield County as experiencing “exceptional drought” — a step beyond “extreme drought.” Colorado’s Assistant State Climatologist recently predicted there would be a large wildfire somewhere in western Colorado before the end of June. Surely, the safety of our families and homes takes precedence over the freedom of individuals to light fireworks.
Given that our public lands will soon be filled with out-of-towners who may not understand the delicate state of our forests, it also would be wise for officials to eliminate the risks associated with campfires. Recently, the county website indicated no campfire restrictions in effect in unincorporated Garfield County, the White River National Forest or BLM lands in the county.
We also rely on our elected officials to help keep us safe in the event that a wildfire does occur. Currently, there is little information regarding planning or preparations for wildfire season on either the sheriff’s or the county’s website. The sheriff serves as the fire warden for the county; the GarCo emergency manager works under the direction of the sheriff.
The ability of families to evacuate safely is a top concern. Taking proactive steps to address the challenges and set up protocols for multitudes of people to vacate our mountain towns at the same time requires coordination by officials from Parachute to Carbondale. Have such meetings been occurring? If so, the public would like to know about them. What progress has been made and what plans are in place?
It’s hard to imagine another situation more applicable to the adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Now is the time to be addressing issues such as inadequate road signage and developing protocols to reduce potential traffic jams.
The city of Glenwood Springs has invested significant resources in the South Bridge Project, which is critical to emergency evacuation and emergency service access for residents of South Glenwood Springs and unincorporated Garfield County around 4 Mile Road. It’s time for Garfield County to contribute to the South Bridge Project and help it move to completion.
We also need elected officials to acknowledge the underlying causes of the extraordinary droughts we are experiencing and to adopt concrete measures to reduce our production of greenhouse gases. Our elected officials must have the foresight and vision to address the well-being of our community for generations to come.
Our elected officials were tapped to serve us. Protecting our health and safety is their job. Let’s urge them to prioritize wildfire preparation and planning and share with us their short-term and long-term plans for safeguarding our communities.
Debbie Bruell of Carbondale chairs the Garfield County Democrats.
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