Woodmoor Residents Learn More Fire Realities

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TLM fire marshal pleads, ‘Help us out here’

Originally printed in Our Colorado News.
By Norma Engelberg

Tri-Lakes Monument Fire Protection District Fire Marshal John Vincent recently spent five days with two other district firefighters in Nebraska fighting a 50,000-acre wildland fire.

“Who knew Nebraska has trees,” he said, eliciting a laugh from residents of south Woodmoor who gathered on Aug. 1 at the Woodmoor Community Center, “The Barn,” to hear about fire and how they can protect their neighborhood. The rest of the residents would hear the same presentation on Aug. 2.

Before going to Nebraska, Vincent spent his days fighting the Waldo Canyon Fire in the Cascade area, starting June 24, the second day after the fire broke out.

He used his experiences there to show Woodmoor residents what they should and shouldn’t do to protect their properties from a similar fire.

“That fire was contained on July 10 but it isn’t out,” he said. “And when it was contained it was only five miles from your homes. A wind-driven fire can move that far in no time. On June 26, with 65-mile-an-hour winds pushing it, the fire moved down the mountain, something fires rarely do, into Mountain Shadows in less than four minutes.”

He described that firestorm as a horizontal vortex, like a tornado on its side, rolling downhill.

Nothing could stop it at that point, he said.

“Fires depend on fuel, weather and topography,” he said. “Firefighters can’t control the weather or the topography and when there is a fire we can’t control fuel. You have to do that before a fire.”

Showing photos of heavily treed areas of Woodmoor, he said, “You have to help us out here. There are only so many of us to protect your neighborhoods.”

“As fast as I can say, ‘yeah, maybe, no,’ that’s how long I have to decide whether we can save your home,” he added.

His suggestions to homeowners included keeping rain gutters clean and clearing vegetation away from the home, especially junipers and Gambel oak.

“If you have two junipers I might be able to clear them away,” he said. “If you have 20, I’ll move on.”

As for scrub oak, even one is too many.

“Just get rid of it,” he said, with backup from Eric Gross, director of forestry for the subdivision. “Then it’s thin, thin, thin. You also need to work on an evacuation plan; you should have at least four ways to get out of your neighborhood and you should have a ‘go-bag’ ready to take with you.”

He also said no to cedar shake roofs and wood siding and suggested that homeowners install steel screens instead of nylon. “You have to ask for them,” he said.

When it comes to rules from the Woodmoor Improvement Association, Gross said any tree within 30 feet of the home is fair game for cutting and trees should be thinned so that crowns are at least 10 feet apart.

“This is mountain pine beetle flight time,” he said. “So we’re asking that you don’t do any green cutting until October to avoid spreading the beetles, but fire mitigation takes top priority. You can get rid of scrub oak any time. Our volunteers can help you decide which trees and shrubs to clear.”

The entire presentation was recorded and the video will be available on the Woodmoor website, www.woodmoor.org, and as a DVD upon request.

For more information, including an opportunity to schedule a property inspection, call (719) 488-2693.

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