Steamboat Springs The mood at a community meeting in North Routt County on Thursday night was as if a wildfire were imminent, and residents needed to be prepared.
“That’s how I feel,” said Sharon Gulley, who has lived in the community 14 years.
She was in the Denver area earlier this week, where she saw smoke from the fires there and visited with evacuees staying at the motel were she was.
“It just makes it a little more up close and personal,” she said.
Gulley was one of about 125 residents who attended a community wildfire preparedness meeting at the North Routt Community Charter School. For many, the Hinman Fire in 2002 is still a vivid memory.
“It’s good to see everyone out here,” said Rick Reitmeyer, a 24-year resident. “I like to see what locally can be done up here.”
North Routt Fire Protection Disrict Chief Bob Reilley led the discussion and was helped by Routt County Emergency Management Director Bob Struble and John Twitchell, district forester with the Colorado State Forest Service.
“Losing a house is a tragedy,” Reilley said. “Losing a life is unacceptable, so our goal as a district is to prepare everyone so we don’t face the unacceptable.”
Reilley urged residents to visit Routt County’s website at www.co.routt.co.us and sign up to receive emergency messages to their cellphones via the Code Red system. That way, residents who work in Steamboat Springs during the day can find out about evacuation or pre-evacuation notices. About 30 people used laptops to sign up for notices at the meeting.
“You don’t have to wait for that evacuation notice,” Reilley said. “If it looks bad, it is. These fires are not the fires we are used to seeing.”
He told residents to develop their own evacuation plans, which include arranging housing, putting together a “go kit,” talking with friends and neighbors and establishing a meeting place, such as Bud Werner Memorial Library.
“I do expect cellphone lines will be overwhelmed,” Reilley said.
Residents should put up a list by their front doors with a checklist of things they need to take during an evacuation.
“The list by the door says grab the safe, grab the computer, grab the kids,” Reilley said.
In the coming days, residents should reinforce the defensible space around their homes.
Reilley said to mitigate the risk to homes, the area within 30 feet of a home should be clear of potential fuels such as firewood, dead lodgepole pine trees or tall grasses.
“Cut the grass down really low this year,” said Reilley, adding that embers from a fire can spread as much as a mile from a fire and cause spot fires. “Mitigation matters. Give us a chance.”
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com