Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo has some advice for those looking to protect their homes from a potential wildfire: Act now.
Chainsaw-aided mitigation efforts like trimming branches and shrubs away from structures should happen now while the wildfire danger is relatively low, he said Friday.
Despite a moisture-filled spring, such spark-creating devices could be included in a ban should the warm and dry weather of late persist for a week or two, DiSalvo said.
Nevertheless, he said he’s breathing a little easier than last spring, when he enacted an open-fire ban on April 5, amid a particularly dry patch of the ongoing drought. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper followed suit in June 2012, declaring a statewide prohibition on open burning and private use of fireworks throughout the state. DiSalvo didn’t lift the local fire ban last summer until Aug. 30.
Fire prohibition decisions come after he consults with the heads of the valley’s fire districts in Aspen, Snowmass Village, Basalt and Carbondale, DiSalvo said.
They “are my experts, and I trust them,” he said.
To make their recommendation, the fire chiefs, in turn, consult information compiled by U.S. Forest Service experts like Jim Genung.
“We go out in the field every two weeks and get a sample of sage brush, oak brush, some larger-diameter fuels,” said Genung, prescribed fires and fuel specialist with the White River National Forest.
The plants are brought to a Forest Service station, where fuel-moisture levels, a critical factor in determining the wildfire danger, are gauged using an oven.
Genung said logs and other material are weighed, go into the oven for a certain amount of time based on the fuel source, and then weighed again. It provides the average percentage of moisture in a plant, he said.
“We’re in a full state of green-up,” Genung said Friday about current conditions. “But should we go back into an extremely dry period over the next several weeks ... it could get into a different situation.”
DiSalvo said residents whose homes abut forest areas — also known as the wildland-urban interface — should now “cut, prune, do all those things” with weed whackers and chainsaws while it’s allowed.
“Under a fire ban you may have to do it manually,” he said.
For more advice on ways to protect your home, there will be meetings:
• June 6 at the Aspen Fire Protection District, 420 E. Hopkins Ave., for residents of the city and surrounding areas.
• June 19 at the Snowmass-Wildcat Fire District, 5275 Owl Creek Rd., Snowmass Village, for village residents and surrounding areas.
• June 25 at the Carbondale and Rural Fire District, 300 Meadowood Dr., Carbondale, for Carbondale, Redstone and Marble residents, and surrounding areas.
For more information, contact Blair Weyer, wildfire public information officer, at 315-2478.
Pitkin County and the districts also are distributing a 14-page wildfire action guide under the auspices of the “Ready, Set, Go” program. It contains information on the wildland-urban interface, defensible space and other ways to make your home fire resistant, checklists for an approaching fire, and other advice.
Even if wet weather continues throughout the summer, homeowners in the wildland-urban interface should continue fire mitigation to get ahead of a potentially dry summer in 2014, DiSalvo said,
“You’ll be one step ahead,” he said. “I can’t stress the mitigation part of this enough.”