During Wildfire Community Preparedness month, Avon reviews preparation and mitigation efforts | VailDaily.com

During Wildfire Community Preparedness month, Avon reviews preparation and mitigation efforts

If they're ready, five sirens will be the newest addition to the annual Wildridge evacuation drill that the Avon Police Department, Eagle Valley Wildland, and the Eagle River Fire Protection District work with other agencies with to ensure that in the event of a wildfire in or near Wildridge, residents get out safely.
Courtesy photo

This year several local municipalities recognized May as Wildfire Community Preparedness month. On May 9, Avon Town Council members unanimously voted to recognize May as Wildfire Community Preparedness month. Alongside efforts to boost community awareness of resources, such as EC Alerts, and mitigating wildland fire risk on one’s own property, local agencies prepare to work together for an annual wildfire preparedness drill in Wildridge. 

“We’re very appreciative of all the efforts and the partnership we’ve had with Avon, the town of Avon and the Avon Police Department for a number of years, which has resulted in this exercise,” Eagle River Fire Protection District Fire Chief Karl Bauer said. “(It’s) an integral component of preparing for a wildfire, particularly in those communities where we recognize there is limited routes in and out.”

Since doing a hazmat drill on Metcalf Rd. eight years ago, Avon Police Deputy Chief Coby Cosper said local first responders decided to begin drilling in preparation for a possible fire in Wildridge.

“What if Metcalf was blocked off and we couldn’t get people out? What would we do?” Cosper said. 

Largely, the annual drill is conducted to test first local emergency officials’ ability to respond to a wildlife-urban interface wildfire in Wildridge. Part of that response includes evacuation, so much of what officials practice is the communication with residents, exercising alternate routes out of Wildridge, and testing a siren system that’s been in the works for several years, Cosper said. 

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The siren system in Wildridge involves five warning sirens which Cosper said are receiving last-minute work before installation. Hopefully, the sirens will be ready for a test during the May 26 evacuation drill, he said. 

In testing the sirens, Avon Police Chief Greg Daly said the department can send a radio signal from its dispatch center, which sets off the sirens all at the same time. If they are ready in time, before the sirens are tested on May 26, an EC alert will be sent out, informing residents of the drill. 

Additionally, monthly tests of the sirens may occur following the May 26 drill, Daly said. 

“We’ll be doing our door-to-door knocks, we’ll be marking with tape to identify houses—if they’re occupied or not, pets there or not,” Cosper said. “We’ll also be focusing on social media, the siren test, and obviously, traffic control.”

Daly said responders have been practicing the evacuation route going from June Creek Trail in Wildridge over to Berry Creek. In police cars, Daly said the route took just under an hour to complete and some police cars had difficulty making the trip.

“That initiated the further conversation of the route up from Singletree Road to that connector from June Creek Trail,” Daly said.

Daly said potentially getting that route going is something the Avon Police Department has been coordinating with the Berry Creek Metro District, Singletree Homeowners Association and county planners.

“Ideally, that route is only for emergency egress,” Daly said.

Cosper said that the Salvation Army will be assisting the drill in setting up a shelter with cots and food—preparing for the possible need to shelter community members in the event of an evacuation. 

Despite officials’ attempts to make the drill as realistic as possible, Cosper said the May 26 Wildridge evacuation drill shouldn’t have any impact on the community. 

Vehicles make their way up to Wildridge Monday in Avon. The development only has one way in and one way out, which prompts the need for an annual wildfire evacuation drill. This year’s drill will be on May 26.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

“There’s no road closures, we’re not responding with lights or sirens (on the emergency vehicles), anything of that nature,” Cosper said. “It’ll be slow, methodical as we go through the process.”

The drill is estimated to last two hours, with an action report to follow. The action report will help the responders assess how it went and further update the evacuation plan so it’s the best it can be. 

“It’s very apropos, I think, to run this kind of drill in May, which is Wildfire Preparedness Month,” Baur said. “But that’s not to imply that the only time we think about wildfire is in May.”

Year-round, fire districts work with wildfires at the front of their minds. Much of that work is with mitigation, Baur said.

“Along with mitigation, we have also continued to ensure that we have the ability to respond effectively to wildfires,” Baur said. 

Hugh Fairfield-Smith, fire management officer for Eagle Valley Wildland, said in his career, he has fought some of the largest wildfires in the country. He said mitigation is a tactical advantage to battling wildfires. 

Fairfield-Smith said the town of Avon and the Eagle River Fire Protection District is able to leverage funding through the Colorado State Forest Service for mitigation projects. 

“With that, we’re hoping to complete nearly $300,000 worth of projects specifically in Wildridge this year,” Fairfield-Smith said. “So, we actually drafted and flew a request for proposal for just over 150 acres in Wildridge and that was flown yesterday. With the 150 acres in Wildridge, we are focusing on the evacuation route that is Metcalf Rd.”

Fairfield-Smith also said that part of that funding would go toward creating a larger defensible space around the homes that are identified as high risk in a wildfire. Additionally, mitigation efforts in Wildridge are being paired with ecological studies, Fairfield-Smith said. 

“The West Avon Preserve is an area that we all know and love, and one of those reasons is the Penstemon wildflower—it’s a rare species that is unique to this area, and we don’t want to damage that (in wildfire mitigation),” Fairfield-Smith said. 

So, Fairfield-Smith said Eagle Valley Wildland is conducting a two-to-three-year ecological study with a partnering agency to map the Penstemon wildflowers and see how they respond to wildfire mitigation. 

With all these mitigation efforts—as well as the annual wildfire response drill—Fairfield-Smith said that Eagle Valley Wildland hopes to see a Firewise Community accreditation for Wildridge by the Colorado State Forest Service. The Firewise Community accreditation may also help with insurance problems Wildridge homeowners may be facing, he said. 

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