With more than 4,500 acres burned and 2,500 homes evacuated after the first two days of the Lower North Fork Fire in Jefferson County numerous local and surrounding agencies are enforcing fire bans.
Douglas, Elbert and Arapahoe counties, along with the town of Castle Rock and city of Englewood, are among those who have done so already and every fire district is taking things extremely seriously — especially after 23 homes have been destroyed and two people killed from the flames.
“The conditions are very dry, there’s very low humidity and if any kind of wind kicks up it makes for very dangerous conditions,” said Becky O’Guinn, public information officer for the South Metro District the day after the fire’s arrival left plumes of smoke visible all over the metro area.
“Anything that could throw a spark should be avoided when fire danger is high like this,” she added, suggesting that includes using fireworks of any type, any outdoor burning, and discarding cigarettes carelessly.
According to Jefferson County officials it is one small ember that was still smoldering from a controlled burn done the previous week by the Colorado State Forest Service near Conifer that started the fire.
Winds reaching 70 mph March 26 turned that ember into a 5-acre fire over the course of the afternoon and it quickly spread to around 90 acres not long after 5 p.m. as high winds continued. The fire raged through the night, gaining traction, causing evacuations and reached close to 5,000 acres the following day as close to 450 firefighters worked together on scene, up from 100 the night before.
Hot shot crews from Utah, Arizona and South Dakota came in on day two to give relief to numerous Colorado firefighters, including some from the South Metro District as well as the Littleton Fire Department.
“I haven’t seen anything like that since the Hayman (in 2002) in terms of smoke generation,” said Jay Ruoff, burueau chief of training for the LFD.
For now the fire remains in Jefferson County, but with it at zero containment and a dozen other fires having broken out — including one near Waterton Canyon — officials are asking that another 6,500 residents be prepared to evacuate, including some in Douglas County.
“This is a very complex and dangerous fire and citizens in the area of Roxborough and Waterton should take precautions and be prepared to evacuate if the conditions change,” said Sgt. Ron Hanavan, spokesperson for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.
FIRE PREVENTION AND PREPARING TO EVACUATE
When it comes to fire prevention, aside from adhering to local burn bans, there are numerous other things to pay attention to in and around the house.
According to Ruoff, you should routinely make sure your smoke detectors and CO monitors are working properly and also ensure that your yard is clear of debris and that you don’t have stuff such as wood piles stacked up against your fence, creating a defensible space 30 feet out from the house.
“We still have fires that will burn up to someone’s backyard,” he said, adding that it is much more likely in the southern part of the fire district in places like Highlands Ranch than it is in the urban areas. “You still have to protect (your property). If we get a fire in the area it is going to be smoky, fast and hot.”
Whether it is a house fire or a wildland fire, though, Ruoff says the big thing is to have a plan if you need to evacuate.
“You need to know what you want to take with you, get out, and know where to meet everyone and make sure that everyone’s safe,” he said.
As far as what to take with you Ruoff recommends taking check books, cell phones, medicine, important documents and irreplaceable items such as photographs, as well as of course, pets.
For more information on preventing fires or creating defensible space visit your local town or county’s website.