With wildfires already springing up locally and around the state — and it being only the middle of April — we could be looking at the worst wildfire season in modern history. Following an unseasonably warm winter with paltry amounts of precipitation, it is clear that the danger of wildfire is now. And with the wrath of Mother Nature being wrought on peoples all over the planet, folks in the Centennial State should start preparing for the worst immediately.
There are numerous things you can do to prepare for a wildfire that can pop up anytime, anywhere. While most options involve back-breaking labor, copious amounts of water, or simply putting down the bong, I understand that people can be intimidated and wondering where they might begin. But they shouldn’t be. There is something you can do to prepare that is quick, easy and virtually pain free. Oh, and as a taxpayer you’ve already paid for it, so you might as well use it. It’s what I call the first step in fire safety.
That first step is to register. By that I mean go sign up with your local law enforcement agency to make sure you do everything you can to be aware of any emergency alerts. In the fight against fires knowledge and information may be your best and only weapon. Be proactive. It could save your own life or the life of a loved one.
The easiest way to register is to go online. Although the Aspen Daily News serves readers statewide and worldwide, our focus is local, primarily on the Roaring Fork Valley. Because the Roaring Fork Valley is comprised of bits and pieces of Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties, I’ve put together a list of websites folks in these counties need to go to if they want to do everything they can to stay apprised of fire danger and other emergencies. Here is the list:
• Pitkin County: www.pitkinalert.org 
• Eagle County: www.ecalert.org 
• Garfield County: www.garco911.org 
Unfortunately, there is a problem with online registration. Many senior citizens do not have computer access or even want to be online. But they do have cell phones and should have every option available to stay informed when it comes to emergency situations. I called all three counties and left messages that let them know my concern for seniors.
By the time this column reached deadline I was only able to speak with Mark Gamrat of the Aspen/Pitkin County Communications center and he also shared my concern for our seniors. They have set up a phone number where folks can call in to register their contact info for emergency notifications. That number is (970) 205-9114.
I’m encouraging folks to sign up because it’s clear that the system known as reverse 911, which relies on land lines, is not always reliable. This was made clear during the recent fires on the Front Range where people died because there were problems with their address. And even if the information on file is correct and the system is working perfectly, land lines can still be unreliable because of power outages that take out cordless phones and answering machines, or damage to the lines from wind or fire. I saw that back in 2003 during the wildfire that tore through Old Snowmass. Besides, with mobile devices becoming more popular with people tightening their belts, land lines are becoming obsolete which is making reverse 911 more ineffective.
So if you want to receive emergency notifications through any and all avenues possible, reach out to your county government. It could mean the difference between life and death. It doesn’t guarantee anything but it can’t hurt.
I know some folks may think I’m being a bit over dramatic and guilty of spewing hyperbole, but I’m not. Wildfires move extremely fast and can change direction on a dime. One only has to look back to 1994 when 14 firefighters lost their lives after the wind changed direction on Storm King Mountain just outside of Glenwood Springs.
I know from personal experience, too. I had to flee from a wildfire on a raft trip in Idaho when the wind changed direction after the sun went down. We had to scramble to grab our gear and run unknown rapids through a dark and smoky night to escape. It was one of the most intense experiences of my life. Fortunately, my dog Jessi was there to sniff out the rapids and guide us to safety.
Some people also will have concerns about privacy and giving so much information to their local government. As a fan of freedom and privacy, I share your concerns and know that is healthy for a democracy. If that is an issue, then you may want to weigh your options. I am only making a suggestion.
In addition, the legal staff at MaddenAmerica also want folks to know that signing up with your county does not guarantee that your house will not burn down, and you and your loved ones will not be burned to a crisp in the event of a fire. Acts of God and idiots are uncontrollable and we at MaddenAmerica remind readers that this column should be used purely for wrapping fish, making paper-mache and as an occasional form of entertainment.
With that said we’ve now covered what I like to call the first step in fire safety. If I had to name a second step it might just be to pray for rain.
Email Jeremy at firstname.lastname@example.org.