Van Beek: The glow of a fire

As we come in from the snow and gather around the fireplace, the glow of a fire is a welcoming sight … not so much mid-summer along the mountainside. Last year was horrific with record-setting wildfires emerging all across the state, and the expectation is things will be even worse this year. These are not the kinds of records we seek to break, as they often include death and always include destruction.

Yet, wildfires are a part of nature’s way of clearing the brush to make way for new life. National Geographic states: “Wildfires are essential to the continued survival of some plant species. Some tree cones need to be heated before they open and release their seeds to germinate. The leaves of these plants include a flammable resin that feeds fire, helping the plants to propagate. Plants such as these depend on wildfires, to sustain their regular life cycle.”

Wildfires also help keep ecosystems healthy. They kill insects and diseases that harm trees. By clearing underbrush, fires make way for new grasses, herbs, and shrubs, that provide food and habitat for animals and birds. At a low intensity, flames can clean up debris and underbrush on the forest floor, add nutrients to the soil, and open up space to let sunlight reach the ground. That sunlight nourishes smaller plants and gives larger trees room to grow.

The historic practice of putting out all fires has caused an unnatural buildup of shrubs and debris, which can fuel larger and more intense blazes.” In addition, our county has suffered tree beetle infestations, which have created tall, dry, fire-starters, regardless of any damp soil conditions.

So, we must balance the benefits of letting some fires burn and protecting others from spreading to communities where the risk of loss is greater, particularly that of life.

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To advise people of potential danger, we have developed a three-stage warning system.

Stage 1

Prohibiting campfires, wood-burning stoves, charcoal grills, and other open flames, including smoking, except in enclosed buildings and vehicles, and any type of explosive material, including fireworks or other pyrotechnic device. Exceptions include permanent fire pits with grates in developed recreational areas and lanterns using gas or jellied petroleum or pressurized liquid fuel. There are also restrictions in using equipment that generates a spark. Welding and other open torch tools may be exempt with permits that include restricted use, like having a chemical pressurized fire extinguisher nearby, at least one 35-inch shovel, and a 10-foot clearing away from combustible material, including grasses and dry brush.

Stage 2

All of the restrictions of Stage 1 plus … no fires, even in developed campgrounds and picnic areas, any internal combustion engine (e.g., chainsaw, generator, ATV) without a spark arresting device, and any fuses or blasting caps, rockets, exploding targets, tracer rounds, and other spark-generating or incendiary objects, agricultural burns (except by permit). Also prohibited is the use of off-road motor vehicles, except in areas devoid of vegetation within 10 feet of the roadway, and in developed campgrounds and trailheads. Exhaust sparks can trigger a blaze.

Stage 3

Closure, except to authorized personnel, to eliminate the potential for human-caused fire hazards.

Home Safety: Fireproofing your home may slow down the progress of a fire, allowing time for firefighters to arrive. Of course, there are now new materials in homebuilding that inhibit fires but most of us live in existing structures. There are still some things that can be done.

Create a fireproof barrier around your home, up to 100 feet. The use of gravel and concrete on driveways and patios helps to create a break. Flame-resistant plants can also slow down approaching flames; ones that are low resin with high moisture content are best. Pay particular attention to areas that are uphill towards your home. Regularly clear out undergrowth and check for flammable items in storage sheds and garages. If you have a gated entrance and there is a Stage 2 warning in effect, leave the gate unlocked to allow easier access for emergency vehicles.

Roof and siding are best if made of tile, metal, concrete, stone, brick, or stucco. If you have a wood roof, be sure to paint the shingles with a fire-resistant treatment. Install double-paned windows with metal, rather than wood frames. When building an outdoor deck, instead of wood, consider concrete, brick, or stone for fire resistance. Clean out debris from gutters which can ignite from nearby sparks. Trim tree limbs around power lines.

Be fire smart inside the home, as well. Keep candles away from curtains, even a slight breeze can ignite a fire. Don’t drape anything over light bulbs; their heat can ignite. Never run space heaters, unattended. Dryer lint is a leading cause of home fires; clean it out every month. Do not overload plugs — check the voltage of extension cords and never run them under rugs. Don’t use appliances that emit an unusual odor and check the integrity of their electrical cords; it cheaper to replace them than to tape a crack which can overheat and spark a fire. Install fire alarms and check batteries regularly. Keep a fire extinguisher nearby. A rescue ladder upstairs can be a lifesaver.

Summer is one of the most enjoyable times of year in Eagle County; let’s make this one fire-free and safe.

Local first responders

  • Eagle County Sheriff’s Office: 970-328-8500
  • Eagle County’s Wildfire Mitigation Specialist: 970-328-8742
  • Eagle River Fire Protection District: 970-748-9665
  • Greater Eagle Fire Protection District: 970-328-7244
  • Gypsum Fire Protection District: 970-524-7101
  • Vail Fire and Emergency Services: 970-479-2250
  • Bureau of Land Management Office, Glenwood Springs: 970-947-2800
  • U.S. Forest Service Office, Eagle: 970-328-6388
  • U.S. Forest Service Office, Minturn: 970-827-5715
  • Basalt and Rural Fire Protection District: 970-704-0675

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