VAIL, Colorado - Vail Fire Chief Mark Miller is eagerly awaiting the action reports from Colorado's massive High Park and Waldo Canyon fires so he can take a hard look at the strategy tactics that did and didn't work in the communities affected.
While parts of the state remain dry, July rains have helped - not cured - both water supplies and dry fuels.
Miller told the Vail Town Council Tuesday that he knows there were issues with evacuations, mainly because of notification systems that didn't reach every resident. And, even when there was an abundance of information, he said people weren't necessarily getting out when told.
Locally, there was a reverse 911 test completed recently and the county found that there's about a 33 percent failure with that system - either people didn't have answering machines, didn't answer the phone or just didn't get the call.
"EC Alert, on the other hand, is extremely reliable," Miller said.
In Vail, the fire department has worked on creating defensible spaces where it can. In Intermountain, for example, the department has cut down trees to create a fairly large fire break. That work was done on town of Vail-owned land, however, but work on neighboring Forest Service lands isn't as easy to get to.
Miller said the mitigation work the town has been able to accomplish with the Forest Service has been great, but working with the agency "doesn't move quickly."
Mayor Andy Daly suggested meeting with the Forest Service to ensure some of the more vulnerable neighborhoods, such as Intermountain, be moved up on the agency's priority list. Daly added he recently saw the Forest Service cutting trees at the bottom of the East Vail Chutes.
"Now I don't think that's a high priority area," Daly said, adding he'd like the Forest Service to come in and help the town better understand the areas the Forest Service views as vulnerable.
"There are certain areas they would agree we need to expedite," Miller said.
Right now, the town is being reactive, Miller said, and less proactive. But in working with the Forest Service more closely, the ability to be more proactive is there.
On the water side of things, Diane Johnson from the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, told the council that nature has the power.
There were about 3 inches of rain in July, which is about an inch more than normal. While that helped Gore Creek get through the month and allowed the district to avoid implementing water restrictions, it still wasn't enough to get us through the summer and fall.
"We have to get through September," Johnson said.
The district is monitoring air and water temperatures, precipitation, streamflows and customer demand daily, she said.
"The drought is far from over," Johnson said. "One hundred percent of Colorado is in severe drought or worse. More than 65 percent is extreme or exceptional. Most of Eagle County was reduced to severe last week by the U.S. Drought Monitor."
Johnson said residents should prioritize their water use - large irrigators such as golf courses and municipalities have all been asked to do the same.