Citizens fight fires before they spark |

Citizens fight fires before they spark

Jennifer Harper
Isaac Eckel/Special to the DailyGary Leitch, member of the Willow Creek Fire Mitigation Committee, marks a tree infested with the mountain pine beetle. The beetles thrive on trees over 6 inches in diameter, and if left can kill the tree. The Fire Mitigation Committee hopes to help homeowners control the beetle.

SUMMIT COUNTY – A large fire hasn’t occurred in Summit County in over 100 years, but that hasn’t stopped locals like Pat and Doug Tormey from preparing for the next blaze whenever it may hit.Pat works on pine beetle relief efforts in her Ruby Ranch neighborhood and her husband, Doug, heads up fire mitigation there. “You can’t separate beetle control, forest health and fire mitigation,” Doug Tormey said. “They’re all intertwined.”As a longtime gardener, Pat Tormey became interested in forest preservation soon after moving to the county. “The forest became my garden,” she said.The Tormeys’ neighbors have teamed up to do what they can to protect their homes and natural surroundings from fire damage. Individual homeowners clear dead wood and beetle infested trees on their own property.

The homeowner’s association pays for the removal of infested trees in common areas, but a lot of community volunteer work is involved in the removal of the dead wood.”This shows how small communities can make a difference,” Pat Tormey said.The Tormeys said when the trees are ablaze and rooftops are beginning to catch fire is not the time to begin considering fire protection.”The fire department can’t defend 40 houses at once,” she said. “You can’t prevent fires, but you can minimize the danger of your home burning down.”The key to protecting homes from fire danger is creating a defensible space, according to county fire mitigation officer Patti Maguire. The theory behind defensible space is preparing a house to survive a wildfire without help from the fire department.

“If a crew comes to a home with obstacles, they will have to make the judgment as to whether they can safely get to a house,” Maguire said. “It’s a hard decision whether to save a home or not.”Maguire suggests homeowners make sure the ground around their houses is clear of needles, dead trees and other forest debris. Thinning out an area thick with trees is also a preventative measure.”Trees do better in the long run anyway if there are fewer of them in an area,” Maguire said.Char Bloom, a member of the board of directors for the Keystone Citizens League, said her neighborhood is focusing on the removal of beetle infested trees to improve fire protection. The beetle infests and kills trees and flies from tree to tree in July. “All the dead trees are fuel for fire,” Bloom said. “One lightning strike and it would all go up.”

According to Bloom, part of reason the danger has not been acknowledged for so long is that the beetle infestations used to last for three years and move on.”Now that the trees are so stressed by drought, the beetles are not leaving,” Bloom said. “If we want to keep our areas up here healthy and beautiful, we need to take action. And we have a limited amount of time, because the beetles fly in July.”Pat Tormey is helping the Ruby Ranch neighborhood identify the beetle infested trees, which can sometimes be hard to spot to the untrained eye. She said that burning, burying, peeling or chipping the trees will kill beetles.”Cutting down the tree alone will not kill the beetle,” Tormey said. “You have to get the bark off the tree. It’s like if someone took the roof off your house, you wouldn’t survive.” Vail, Colorado

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