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Wildfire

How to prepare for a wildfire in Colorado

As wildfire season grows longer and more catastrophic, experts say to map evacuation routes and gather emergency supplies

A Boulder Rural Fire Department firefighter approaches a burning home near Trail Ridge Road and Washington Avenue in Louisville, CO, on Dec. 30, 2021. Driven by 110 mph winds, the Marshall fire ripped through Louisville, Superior and unincorporated Boulder County, consuming 6,200 acres and destroying 991 buildings. (Jeremy Sparig, Special to The Colorado Sun)

The Marshall fire, which forced thousands to flee as flames raced across 6,000 acres in the matter of hours, offered a window into what has become a new reality for many parts of Colorado.

Even if you don’t live in a community directly adjacent to forestland, embers can travel through the air, move rapidly and travel great distances, especially when fueled by intense winds.

Here is a list of ways to prepare in the event a wildfire in Colorado:

Before the fire

Assemble an emergency kit.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency suggests packing the following items: 

  • Water (one gallon per person per day for several days, for drinking and sanitation) and at least a three-day supply of nonperishable food
  • Battery-powered or hand-crank radio that can receive NOAA weather radio tone alerts and other batteries
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • First-aid kit
  • Extra batteries
  • Whistle (to signal for help)
  • Dust mask (to help filter contaminated air)
  • Wrench or pliers (to turn off utilities)
  • Manual can opener (for food)
  • Local maps
  • Cell phone with chargers and a backup battery
  • Masks (for everyone ages 2 and above), soap, hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes
  • Prescription medication and glasses. nonprescription medications to treat pain and diarrhea
  • A complete change of clothing including a long-sleeved shirt, long pants and sturdy shoes. Consider additional clothing for colder temperatures. 
  • Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank records. Place the documents in a portable, waterproof container. 
  • Cash and change
  • First aid book
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • Sleeping bag or a warm blanket for each person
  • Pen and pencil
  • Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children 
  • Pet food and extra water for your pet 
  • Diapers and formula
Keep important documents together. 
  • Collect insurance records, passports, birth certificates, property titles, Social Security cards and any other important documents that may be needed to file claims after the fire or might be difficult to replace. 
Know how you will communicate with your family 
  • Create a hardcopy list of contact information for your family and other important people and services, like doctors, schools or service providers. Make sure everyone carries a copy in their wallet, purse or backpack. 
  • When using a cell phone, a text message is the best way to communicate with family, as it uses less bandwidth.
Know your escape routes
  • Have a map with more than one evacuation route and practice them with your family. Make sure everyone in the family knows your safe meeting place and let your friends and family know your plans. 
Set up homeowner’s or renter’s insurance
  • Homeowners should complete annual insurance policy “check-ups” to make sure they keep up with local building costs, home remodeling and inventories of their personal belongings, according to Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association. 
  • Rates will vary depending on how likely it is a claim will be filed and how much it is likely to cost. For example, a homeowner living in an area that has high wildfire risk would pay a higher insurance rate than a homeowner living in a low-risk area. 
  • Renter’s insurance can cover the cost to replace the belongings inside your rented home (up to policy limits) and most policies include additional living expenses if you are forced out of your home from a fire.
Make an inventory of your home
  • Take photos or record the belongings inside your home and store them outside your home or digitally. Remember to document contents of drawers and closets and if recording, mention the price you paid and where and when you bought the item. 
  • Save receipts for major purchases and store them digitally or in a fireproof case. 
  • Don’t forget to document what’s inside your garage.
Create a digital backup of photos
  • For photos taken with your phone, use Google Photos, Apple iCloud, Dropbox or similar services to keep your photos backed up online.
  • For photo albums and other nondigital keepsakes, use a personal scanner to create copies or use a local scanning service to make backups of irreplaceable images.
Have a plan for your pets and animals
  • Many public shelters and hotels don’t allow pets inside. Know a safe place where you can take your pets before disasters happen. 
  • Have your pet microchipped. Make sure your address and phone number are up to date.
  • Plan with neighbors, friends or relatives to make sure that someone is available to care for or evacuate your pets if you are unable to do so.
  • Consider moving horses and large animals to a safe location early, before evacuation is ordered, if possible. 
Know the risk of wildfire where you live

Reducing fuels around your home can help mitigate wildfire risk. Colorado State Forest Service offers the following tips to help prepare your home and property for a fire:

  • Remove all debris, including leaves and needles, from decks, roofs and gutters
  • Screen the attic, roof, eaves and foundation vents with ⅛-inch metal mesh
  • Use tempered glass for windows. CSFS recommends at least two panes
  • Replace combustible fencing or gates that are within 5 feet of your home
  • Rake and remove all pine needles and other flammable debris from a 5-foot radius around the foundation of your home
  • Keep propane tanks at least 30 feet from the home, preferably at the same elevation as the house; remove flammable vegetation within 10 feet of all propane tanks and gas meters
  • Keep firewood stacked uphill, or at the same elevation as, your home and keep the woodpile at least 30 feet away from your home; do not stack the wood between trees, underneath the deck or on the deck
  • Remove branches that hang over the roof and chimney
  • After thinning trees and shrubs, dispose of the slash by chipping, hauling to a disposal site or piling in open areas for burning later. Wood chips should be kept 30 feet or more away from your home.
  • Read more mitigation tips for your home, here
Smoke from the Marshall fire rises above homes in the Rock Creek neighborhood,looking north on McCaslin Boulevard, beyond Coalton Road, toward Andrew Drive in Superior, Colorado, on Dec. 30, 2021. The Marshall fire ripped through the north part of town and then moved on to Louisville. As of Jan. 1, 2022, the fire had consumed 6,200 acres and destroyed 991 structures. (Jeremy Sparig, Special to The Colorado Sun)

As the fire approaches

  • If there’s time, move flammable items like propane tanks, brush and wood piles at least 30 feet away from your home. Shut off the gas at the meter and turn off the air-conditioning. Shut windows and doors, but leave them unlocked so firefighters can get in after you evacuate. 
  • Remove flammable drapes and curtains. 
  • Listen or read the local news for updated emergency information 
  • Place valuable documents and mementos inside the car.

When you decide to leave

  • Don’t wait for an evacuation order to leave. If you feel unsafe, go. Consider traffic jams if you live in a densely populated area. 
  • Grab your go-bag and if there is time, your most important belongings, including personal documents, family keepsakes, cell phones and chargers.