Are you ready to get out?
EAGLE COUNTY – Angela Cliver’s car was already full and ready to go when she left her parents’ home in Colorado Springs earlier this week. Cliver left in a hurry – one of her daughters had to put on her pants after the family had driven to safety.
Cliver and her parents, Nathan and Sandra Brightwell, are fine, and her mother is safely settled into their second home in Avon. Nathan, a doctor, stayed in Colorado Springs to help, if needed. The family still doesn’t know the fate of their home in Colorado Springs’ Peregrine neighborhood, an area on the fire-ravaged northwest side of the city.
Cliver called to share some of her thoughts about getting out in a hurry, and what homeowners can do to help protect their property.
Cliver said she’s become a big believer in “defensible space” – clearing weeds, pine needles and other flammable debris from around homes and out of gutters. If a home is in a heavily wooded area, like the Brightwells’ place, it’s important to keep a clear area around the house.
When the call to evacuate came, it came quickly – just after the Waldo Canyon Fire had jumped a half-mile past a fire line. Cliver said it wasn’t all that hard to decide what to take and what to leave.
“Everything’s replaceable, except for people,” she said.
That said, Cliver and her parents had had a couple of days to prepare, so they had medications, documents, phone chargers and other items loaded up and ready to go.
People often have the luxury of at least some time if they’re told they might have to evacuate. The order to leave can come quickly, though.
That’s why Vail Fire Chief Mark Miller recommends having a list written down, after going through a home with a keen eye for what to take and what to leave.
“Go through your living room and say, ‘I’ll take these three things,'” Miller said, adding folks should follow the same drill in the other rooms in the house.
Miller advised having a few items packed and ready to go – particularly important documents such as car titles, insurance policies and similar paperwork. It’s also important to have medications, spare eyeglasses or contact lenses and the like, within easy reach.
To help get out the word Miller and other local officials and residents have put together a program called “Ready, Set, Go,” which hopes to educate local residents about disaster planning.
Miller said the “Ready, Set, Go” pamphlets contain the best information he’s seen on the subject, and “we have hundreds of them,” he said.
While planning is crucial for residents, it’s perhaps more important for local law enforcement and fire departments.
Eagle County Sheriff Joe Hoy said his department has been working on ways to get out information to residents in case of a wildfire or other disaster.
“We’d use reverse 911, the Eagle County alerts, the county TV station and radio,” Hoy said. “We’ll give directions on where to report.”
While “mandatory” evacuations sound pretty official, Hoy said there’s no way he and his officers can force someone out of his or her home. But, he added, if someone stays and then wants help getting out, officers aren’t going to go back into a dangerously burning neighborhood.
Instead, officers will be outside the neighborhoods, directing traffic and keeping people out of neighborhoods to prevent vandalism. The Sheriff’s Office will also work with local search and rescue volunteers to look for people who may have tried to evacuate into the woods.
“We’ll keep our fingers crossed nobody does that,” Hoy said. “There’s just no predicting what a fire is going to do.”
Hoy said he hopes people are taking disaster planning seriously, and said there might be one more item some people should consider taking if they have to evacuate.
“It might not be a bad idea to take your camper if you have one,” Hoy said. “I’ve heard there’s not a hotel room to be found between Pueblo and Denver right now.”
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