North Routt County residents Susan and Mark Burke continuously work around their home to maintain their defensible space, which is the area around homes cleared of vegetation and other materials that could catch fire in a wildfire.

Photo by Matt Stensland

North Routt County residents Susan and Mark Burke continuously work around their home to maintain their defensible space, which is the area around homes cleared of vegetation and other materials that could catch fire in a wildfire.

Routt County residents urged to maintain defensible space

With fire conditions high, officials say everyone needs to be prepared for a wildfire

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— A hillside littered with dead lodgepole pine trees in the Routt National Forest looms over the log home owned by Susan and Mark Burke.

They know a wildfire that would threaten their home off Seedhouse Road in North Routt County is just a lightning strike away.

“We’re just holding our breath,” Mark Burke said.

With fire conditions already surpassing what they were during the last big fire season in 2002, the Burkes are not alone in their concern. Local fire officials do not want to cause alarm, but they say everyone in Routt County needs to be prepared this year for a wildfire, and there are things residents can do now to protect their homes.

“We have a lot of forest that comes down to dense urban areas,” North Routt Fire Protection District Chief Bob Reilley said. “No one can be complacent this year is my message.”

The dramatic photos from the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs showed just how vulnerable a subdivision can be.

“Colorado Springs has been an eye-opener,” Mark Burke said.

The fire has burned 347 homes.

“Houses are just another fuel package,” Reilley said. “When houses start burning it’s just like another patch of forest that is difficult to control.”

To give firefighters a chance at saving homes, Reilley and other local fire officials urge residents to reinforce the defensible space around their homes in the coming days.

“Keep the grasses low,” said Jay Muhme, fire marshal for Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue. “The lower the grass, the lower the flame length.”

The Burkes in North Routt County said that after the fires in 2002, most residents had brush cleared from the property that could act as fuel in a wildfire. In recent years, many of the beetle-killed trees around homes have been removed — the Burkes used their trees to build a garage — but maintaining a good defensible space is an ongoing job.

“We have been watering quite a bit,” Susan Burke said, adding that storms in the area have produced little rain but a lot of lightning.

The Burkes have taken the other steps advised by fire officials to keep a good defensible space. They placed flammable materials like firewood away from the home and keep their trees pruned with the branches away from the ground. It is advised that gutters should be cleared of debris, and the defensible space should stretch at least 30 feet from the home.

“We need to move stuff away from our houses,” Reilley said to about 125 residents who attended a wildfire preparedness meeting Thursday at the North Routt Community Charter School.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

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