Steamboat Springs Chances are, if you ask the average locals walking down Lincoln Avenue, they could not tell you what to do if they had to evacuate their homes in 15 minutes.
They can tell you what they would grab pets, pictures, important papers but they could not tell what to do or where to go.
And as Steamboat faces one of its worst droughts in the past 100 years and forest fire indicators are well past the extreme danger point, knowing what to do in case a home has to be evacuated is critical, said Chuck Vale, Routt County's emergency manager.
Vale said residents should already have a plan in place in case they have to evacuate a house with 15 minutes' notice.
"If people would think in 15 minutes they were going to leave and when they come back there may be nothing, then they want to know what they want to take," Vale said. "If people don't preplan, they can't do it in 15 minutes. Insurance papers, prescriptions, eyeglasses those things you're not going to remember."
If fires are working their way through forests like the ones in Moffat County or the Hayman fire, homeowners might have two or three days' notice as firefighters predict the path of the fire. But in the case of fires started by lightning, how most fires are started in Routt County, nearby homeowners might have as little as 15 minutes to get out.
Vale is quick to caution that the entire town of Steamboat would have a slim-to-none chance of being evacuated. He said the lack of fuel dry trees and grasses would cause the fire to die before it hit downtown, Steamboat II or the base of Mount Werner. But he said the more wooded areas such as Stagecoach, Dakota Ridge, Catamount and Treehaus are prime targets for wildfires and evacuations.
"You should know the environment," Vale said. "If you are in a hazardous area, you should be thinking about where your family should meet and what meds you need."
And while wildfires are the highest concern this summer, Vale said, an evacuation plan should be in place for any emergency.
And having one means knowing where family members should meet or how to stay in contact, having a list of what to take, preparing an emergency kit and knowing the safest route off the property. Emergency preparedness would also mean having copies of important documents such as licenses, mortgages, proof of ownership, wills and insurance papers.
But in the case of a threatening wildfire, there are other steps homeowners should follow when preparing to leave. FIREWISE, a multi-agency program, and the Colorado State Forest Service suggest steps such as closing doors and windows and turning on a light in each room as ways to defend your home from fire.
They also recommend filling buckets, tubs and sinks with water and placing a ladder against the roof of the house on the opposite side of the approaching wildfire.
Vale said if homes have to be evacuated, the sheriff's office would notify the residents. And law enforcement agents would block the entrances of the evacuated areas to ensure looting does not take place.
Although residents in the Midwest might practice tornado warnings and those in the South practice hurricane drills, Vale said in Northwest Colorado, a hotbed for wildfires, evacuation drills are rarely done. Vale said the local departments do practice an annual disaster scenario for events such as plane crashes, and he is confident they can work together for wildfires.
But Vale did say Steamboat offers unique challenges. Determining if a house is occupied or owned by an out-of-town second-home owner takes valuable time as law enforcement agents notify the properties, he said.
In the past few years, wildfires have caused the evacuations in homes near Stagecoach and Milner. And Vale said evacuations would occur whenever fire threatens, something he sees as likely this summer.
"We always error on the side of safety," he said. "We'll get people out if there is going to be a chance."