Sustainable Vail: Not out of the woods yet with fire danger

Paul Cada
Sustainable Vail
Paul Cada

This summer, the afternoon monsoon storms returned to the Vail area leaving much of the Eagle River Valley lush and green through early August. Although there currently aren’t any fire restrictions in Eagle County, residents and visitors need to remain vigilant when it comes to fire mitigation.

For those exploring the backcountry and enjoying the beauty of our surrounding national forest, the following are tips for recreating responsibly and reducing the risk of fire.

  • Check fire restrictions before camping and building a fire. Eagle County Emergency Management has a great website with an interactive map that is updated regularly with fire restrictions on U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and private land.
  • Put out fires properly. The rule for putting out fires is to put water on the fire, stir it around, add more water and stir again. You should be able to hold your hand in the fire for 10 seconds without any heat. If not, put more water on the fire and start the process again.
  • Use common sense when deciding if it’s appropriate to start a fire. Just because there aren’t fire restrictions doesn’t mean you should start a fire. For example, if it’s a windy day, it’s probably best to not start a campfire.

Also, it’s not uncommon to see multiple grass fires along the highway. This year we’ve had a lot of rain and the grass along our highways is tall. Those who have to pull over on the side of the road should be aware that catalytic converters get really hot and can start fires in these tall grasses. If you have to pull over, make sure you are in a cleared area. Colorado Department of Transportation signs throughout Eagle County also remind truck drivers to check for dragging chains which can spark wildfires.

Everyone should be prepared in the event of a wildfire in Eagle County. There are several easy things that will make a huge impact during a wildfire event.

  • Sign-up for or confirm registration for EC Alerts.
  • Provide critical information to the Vail Fire Department through Community Connect.
  • Create a family or business evacuation plan and complete your emergency checklist. Preplanning goes a long way and people are encouraged to the use six “P’s” when developing their evacuation plan. The six P’s are: people and pets; papers, phone numbers and important documents; prescriptions and irreplaceable memorabilia; personal computer; and plastic — credit cards, ATM cards, etc.
  • Fire can break out when you are away from your home so develop a plan to have a neighbor or friend access your home to retrieve important items including pets.
  • Schedule a site visit with wildland staff to evaluate your property.

The town of Vail launched a new community assistance program in June that was designed to help property owners reduce their risk from wildfire. The “Fire Free Five Community Assistance” program is intended to provide financial support to property owners who are increasing wildfire resiliency by creating a 5-foot, noncombustible zone around their building.

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Within the Fire Free Five guidelines, recommended landscaping includes hardscaping such as on-grade patios, walkways, driveways, etc., noncombustible mulch such as pea gravel, cobble and stone, well-maintained and irrigated lawn, perennial flower beds and perennial ground cover. Trees and shrubs should not be planted within the 5-foot space. Trees planted outside the 5-foot zone that hang over into the zone should be limbed up to a height of 6 feet or one-third the total height (whichever is less) and should be trimmed to leave at least a 2-foot gap between the nearest branch and the building.

For more information on the Fire Free Five Community Assistance Program, visit or contact Paul Cada directly at 970-477-3475.

Paul Cada is the fire and emergency services wildland program manager for the town of Vail. The Discover Vail monthly sustainability column is a project of the Vail Local Marketing District Advisory Council.

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