Grand Junction, COLO. As wildfire season quickly approaches in the Western Slope, homeowners play a big role in helping firefighters by making sure their home is safe and accessible for fire officials to enter in case of an emergency.
“It's just not unusual for us in Colorado to have wildland fires that involve the wildland and urban interface – it's very common," said Dave Toelle, Regional Fire Management Officer for Colorado Division of Fire Prevention & Control.
Toelle says preparing your home for wildfire season should be a top priority. "Create a defensible space, doing things like trimming the grass, limbing up tree branches, and things that might be down touching the ground, cleaning out their gutters."
Creating that defensible space, Toelle says, includes things like: getting rid of old vegetation near your home that can act as a fuel for a fire, and once fire catches it could quickly spread.
"The lower elevations typically are where we pick up most of the fires. In Garfield and Mesa County, you have a ton of receptive fuels out there with things like cheatgrass, sagebrush, pinyon-juniper type fuels," said Toelle.
Once the area surrounding your home is safe, it's also best to plan for a worst case scenario – an escape and communication plan in case you have to evacuate.
"Any steps that you can take are good. The only bad plan is not having a plan," said Kevin Krause, Emergency Preparedness Coordinator with the American Red Cross.
Krause says keeping an emergency kit with essential items such as food, water, a flash light, and a dusk mask, is vital if asked to leave on a moment's notice.
"We really recommend that the bug out bags or the 72-hour kits be somewhere you can access them quickly if you have to leave your home," said Krouse.
Another important thing to pack? Copies of important documents you can take with you.
"Being able to prove who you are, what you own, where you live, that kind of thing— passports, ID's, deeds to your property or your car," are all things you should have in your go bag, according to Krause.
Emergency Manager, Andy Martsolf, says wildfire is a major hazard in Mesa County.
"Just because 2014 was a mild wildfire year, doesn't mean that this year is going to be. It's shaping up what would be considered an average wildfire year," said Martsolf.
And according to the National Weather Service, our biggest threat comes next month.
"June is our driest month of the year," said meteorologist Julie Malingowski.
Toelle says to act now in order to help protect your property and family to prepare in case of a wildfire. "Do some mitigation; remove some of the fuels, limb up some of the ladder fuels off the standing trees.”
The Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control says there were 122 fires throughout the Upper Colorado River Fire Management unit in 2014.
For more tips on how to create a defensible space, you can contact the Colorado State Forest Service and schedule an appointment for them to do an assessment around your home.