Despite Many Obstacles, Snowmass Prepares for Wildfire Threat
KREX News Room
SNOWMASS, Colo.- With wildfires popping up all over the state, officials say wildfire funds have run dry. As a result, Pitkin County commissioners are focusing their attention on preventing the catastrophe to protect the town's many visitors. "We get a million who wander in here because of our ski season and because of the summer events," said Steven Sowles, the fire chief for the Snowmass Fire Department.
Even though the town is one of the few fully paid organizations in the valley, there are only 19 firefighters on staff. "If we're going to protect 2,800 people, we're pretty well set up for that, but if we're going to protect a million, we're not," Sowles said.
The town is also essentially situated in a matchbox. "Right now the trees in our area and throughout the state are basically kiln-dried lumber, which means they have very low moisture," said Mick Ireland, Aspen's mayor.
"Even these beautiful green trees we like, they'd burn in a heartbeat," added Sowles.
It's no surprise then, that various Pitkin County fire districts pool their resources. "Alone we're going to fail; together we might have a chance," said Sowles.
Sowles' team uses a number of creative solutions to make up for what they lack. "We've been out both on the fire prevention side and on the suppression side doing area surveys of properties," explained Sowles.
Removing fuel is step one, "eliminating the deadfall around their properties, cutting back flammable vegetation from their property, those kinds of things," said Sowles.
While there's not a lot of stored water, the town can rely on mother nature for some help. "We do have two major sources to draw on," said Ireland, referring to a creek and a river.
Even if the federal government could help, it has to wait 24 hours after an outbreak. As a result, Aspen officials passed an all-encompassing first-response measure.
"We have authorized the city manager to contract with fighter planes that drop water, the tanker planes and personnel and equipment should there be a wildfire breakout that threatens the city or the county of Pitkin," added Ireland.
However, with just one major highway in and out of the Roaring Fork Valley and just two roads in and out of Snowmass, evacuations may not be so quick. The infrastructure is a challenge that Pitkin County officials continue to address for future fire seasons.
Residents can also be prepared before a natural disaster by visiting PitkinEmergency.org.