Fires elsewhere have Vail residents on alert | VailDaily.com

Fires elsewhere have Vail residents on alert

Chris Jensen, right, and her husband Chris, with their dog Scout, unload their belongings from their vehicles after being allowed to go back to their home on Magnolia Road in Boulder County last week. The Jensens were evacuated due to wildfires.

VAIL — This valley has been spared over the years from large-scale wildfires. But look around and it's easy to see a big fire is certainly possible.

Four large-scale fires are currently burning in Colorado — near Nederland, north of Walden, southeast of Grand Junction and east of Salida. Several structures have been lost, and thousands of people evacuated. That tends to focus the attention of people who live in a relatively tight mountain valley.

"Whenever we get smoke, we get interest," Vail Fire Department wildland fire specialist Paul Cada said. At the July 12 town picnic in Bighorn Park, Cada said he handed out emergency preparedness information to residents.

None of Eagle County has yet come under any kind of fire restrictions. But, Cada said, a combination of warm, dry weather and several days of stiff winds have been quickly drying out grasses that are the first fuels to catch in a lightning strike or campfire mishap.

Cada said officials try to keep an eye on campers in East Vail or up toward Piney Lake. Those campsites often need watching.

"Every weekend we see unattended campfires," Cada said. "We just can't over-emphasize fire safety."

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IF A FIRE STARTED

If a major fire does strike on a hillside in the valley, Cada said that fire will almost certainly march uphill — that's what fire does. But the embers from that fire will drift, creating danger for homes on the valley floor — particularly where that valley is relatively narrow.

Given the number of wooden roofs and the amount of landscaping in Vail, Cada said a major hillside fire could ignite other blazes in the valley below.

That's why town officials have been working for a few years on evacuation plans for the town and are working to ensure that residents know about those plans.

EVACUATION DRILL

Vail Police Chief Dwight Heninger said there will be a mock evacuation Aug. 9, the day of the second town picnic, to be held at Donovan Pavilion.

The drill will be in the Matterhorn neighborhood, and people will be "evacuated" to Donovan Pavilion about 10:30 a.m., Heninger said.

"It's an opportunity to get officers out into those neighborhoods," Heninger said. During the drill, officers will hand out cards to residents asking what those people would do in case of a wildfire. Those cards also offer advice and resources, including having a kit handy with enough essential supplies to live away from home for 72 hours. Residents are also encouraged to turn on their yard lights and/or leave something white in a front window so officials will know the people inside have evacuated the area.

Despite official encouragement for residents to have a plan, the fact is that most people haven't had to clear out of their neighborhoods on a moment's notice. Jason Haynes has.

Haynes, the pastor of Gracious Savior Lutheran Church in Edwards, said he and his young family were evacuated from their residence when they were living in Southern California several years ago. It's hard to know what to take and what to leave when that happens, Haynes said.

With that experience still in mind, these days there's a shelf in the Haynes family home that contains the first stuff to grab in case they need to get out quickly. That shelf has important information and paperwork, but it also has backup hard drives containing family photos and home movies. There's a backup laptop computer on the shelf, too.

Vail resident Robert Schilling lives in a townhome in Vail. Schilling said he's asked his homeowners association to do some fire mitigation work around the property. While there isn't a lot he can do about the property, Schilling said he knows how he'd get out in case of a wildfire.

That's information not everyone has.

Talking with Cada, Schilling asked how people would be able to get out of East Vail if access was blocked to the Interstate 70 interchange.

Cada said there's a way to get out by heading toward the East Vail campground, then up Vail Pass on a paved path.

"We can get people out if we need to," Cada said.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com or @scottnmiller.

Four tips

• Know what to take. Decide in advance what’s important enough to take in an emergency.

• Sign up for the Eagle County alert system at http://www.ecalert.org.

• Before evacuating, leave a porch light on, and/or a white object to display in a front window.

• Keep your pets on a leash or in a crate.

• For a full list of suggestions, go to http://www.ready.gov.