BRECKENRIDGE - Local firefighters and forestry experts urged the public to be vigilant and prepared at the inaugural Wildland Fire Action Planning Event on Saturday in Breckenridge.
"We hope the community will become part of the wildland fire solution," CSU Extension agent and event organizer Dan Schroder said.
"And that starts with prevention," Red, White and Blue Fire Chief Lori Miller added.
Saturday's event, a combination workshop and conference, was geared toward arming the public with relevant information to manage wildfire preparedness, from evacuation routes to emergency kits to a broad picture of current forest conditions, ahead of what could be one of the most dangerous fire seasons in a decade.
"We're seeing conditions in Summit County that we've never seen before, with the dryness, with the wind and, of course, with the beetle kill," Miller said.
Officials heralded the importance of having emergency plans in place, evacuation kits stocked with the essentials and, above all, not waiting for an evacuation order to move to a safe location in the event of a wildfire.
"Don't wait for someone to tell you to leave," Jody Acres, of the Red Cross, warned a breakout group Saturday. "If you see smoke and fire, get out of there."
She encouraged participants to have an emergency kit packed ahead of time with enough essentials, including medications, pet food, cell phone chargers, battery operated radios and first aid supplies, to last three days.
The event kicked off at 10 a.m. with a talk on forest ecology and the role of wildfires in forest management, followed by a series of breakout stations on relevant emergency preparedness topics.
At one station, personnel helped attendees locate their homes on maps of the county and identify the nearest evacuation routes. Other stations covered the danger of embers, which start the fires that destroy the most homes during wildfire events, and family communication plans.
The workshop also put an emphasis on the issue of defensible space, a topic of some past controversy in Summit County. Defensible space is still a voluntary program locally, but officials said it's a key part of the personal responsibility message at the heart of Saturday's event.
"(The goal is) that word travels and people understand that they're taking responsibility to protect their homes," Miller said. "The better they protect their homes, the easier it is for us to protect their homes."
The event ended with a firewise panel discussion made up of representatives of the six communities in Breckenridge that have adopted defensible space policies.
The primary determinants of a home's ability to withstand a wildfire event are the quality of its defensible space and its roofing materials, according to information provided by a CSU Extension program.
Saturday's event was funded by a $1,000 federal grant through the International Association of Fire Chief's Ready, Set, Go program. Organizers said they hope to make it an annual conference.
"It's important to continually educate the public and give the public opportunities to learn new strategies to be safe," Shroder said.
Summit is now under a countywide Stage 1 fire ban, and the White River National Forest is also under fire restrictions. The fire danger rating in Summit County was "very high" Saturday.
A wildfire action guide provided to participants in Saturday's event is available to the general public for free. The guide packet can be picked up at the Red, White and Blue fire station six.