Fire officials push for defensible space

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Fields and forests left bone-dry by drought might have seemed like a distant summer memory when winter showed its face Wednesday.

But it is not so distant to some. Those who saw last summer's wildland fires up close are preparing for another long, dry season.

Routt County fire officials recently returned from a seminar in Durango, the site of last year's Missionary Ridge fire. There, they attended the Firewise Communities workshop, which focused on recognizing fire hazards to homes in wooded areas and encouraged people to take steps to reduce the danger.

The message they are bringing back to Routt County residents who live in wooded areas is to take precautions now to minimize the summer threat of fire to their homes.

Fire officials have been preaching the benefits of defensible space around homes for some time.

"I hope people are listening," County Emergency Manager Chuck Vale said.

Vale said it's important to get the precautionary message out early so homeowners have enough time to act before conditions pose a threat to their property.

There's only so much firefighters can do when they respond to a wildland fire, Steamboat Springs assistant fire chief Bob Struble said.

If surrounding brush and trees stand too close to a house, the challenge of saving it intensifies.

Too many houses in the county could be easy targets in a wildland fire, Vale said. Vegetation and timber lie dangerously close to many homes in rural Routt County and in wooden subdivisions.

About 40 firefighters assigned to the Mount Zirkel Complex last August tore down dead trees and hauled away dense underbrush that choked homeowners' yards along Seedhouse Road. More than a dozen homeowners were able to take advantage of the service, made available because of the excess of manpower assigned to the fire.

Vale and Struble would like to see more residents take similar measures to protect their investments.

If people don't first help themselves, there's little firefighters can do, Vale said.

-- To reach Danie Harrelson 871-4203

or e-mail dharrelson@steamboatpilot.com

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