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Help firefighters by protecting your home

By Bill Trimarco
Special to The SUN

What can you do to help our firefighters?

As the West Fork Complex Fire continues to grow and there still is no rain in sight, a lot of people are offering their help.

If you really want to help the firefighters, what they need is for you to protect yourself and your property from wildfire. If the wind changes or another fire starts up, it may be too late for the crews to come in and start trying to protect your property.

We have already seen the West Fork fire grow at an unprecedented rate. We really don’t know how much time we might have when a wildfire threatens. There are quite a few simple things we can do, however, to minimize the risk to our lives and property.

One of the first priorities is to develop an evacuation plan for the members of your household.

You may wish to develop a list of what you want to gather depending on how much warning you have.

At the very least, it is advisable to have a “to go” bag ready. A few day’s to a week’s worth of medications, toiletries, eyeglasses, extra clothes, flashlight, phone and charger, etc. is a good place to start. It’s worthwhile to have any important documents (passport, insurance policies and the like) and computer backup, packed for easy transport. You may not have time to look for pet carriers or hook up horse trailers, so have these things ready. Keep a flashlight handy and know where people are in the house; you can’t be assured of electrical power in an emergency.

If you have advanced warning of an evacuation, things will go a lot more smoothly if you have a priority list of items to load. You might want to get very specific such as lists for a 10-minute evacuation, a one hour list, a one day warning, etc.

If you have time, close all windows and pull furniture away from them, before you leave. Get any flammables off the deck and away from the building.

Once you are confident that you are prepared to leave in a hurry, you can take the time to get your home ready to withstand a wildfire. It is good to remember that about 90 percent of the homes lost to wildfire are never touched by the roaring flames like you see photographed on the evening news. It’s the blizzard of little embers and firebrands that find something to burn on or near the house that are the main culprit.

Here is a quick list of things to check:

• Make sure all attic, eave and crawl space vents are screened (1/8 inch or smaller is preferred).

• Keep the area under the deck and stairs free of flammables (pine needles, lumber, etc.). These areas can be screened to prevent debris buildup.

• Store firewood at least 30 feet from the structure. If you keep it closer in the winter, make sure it is moved come spring.

• Clean pine needles from roofs and gutters.

• Use nonflammable ground cover in the first five feet around the home. Adequately watered succulent plants are usually fine, but keep evergreens and junipers away from the house, especially if your siding is flammable. Wood chips and decorative bark are flammable.

• Don’t allow wooden fences to touch the structure.

Most of these items could be taken care of with a minimum of time and effort and can go a long way towards protecting your home, yourself and your family. If you want to take things further, you can look at fire resistant building materials and creating defensible space zones around your home.

The Colorado State Forest Service website has an excellent guide, Protecting Your Home From Wildfire, that can be downloaded from their website www.csfs.colostate.edu. You can also get information, advice and help from FireWise of Southwest Colorado at www.southwestcoloradofires.org or by contacting Bill Trimarco, Archuleta FireWise at archuletafirewise@gmail.com.

This story was posted on June 27, 2013.