By Beth Dodd:
‘Hope for the best, and plan for the worst’ was the message conveyed by officials at an informational forum on April 23 in Woodland Park about recovering from the Waldo Canyon fire and planning for future natural disasters. Residents of Teller County and western El Paso County face possible flash floods and mudslides and another potentially extreme fire season this summer. Another disaster preparation meeting will be held at the Ute Pass Cultural Center in Woodland Park at 5:30 p.m. on May 15 to help the public get ready for what might be an eventful summer.
Steven Steed, the Director of Teller County’s Office of Emergency Management says that if the worst happens, Teller County has two main ways to communicate with residents in an emergency, Nixle.com and Reverse 911. You can sign up for Nixle.com on the Teller County website on the Office of Emergency Management page. This free service will send emergency notices to your cell phone and email. From your internet browser, go to http://www.co.teller.co.us/OEM. To register for Reverse 911, go to www.elpasoteller911.org. It is especially important to sign up for these services if you do not have a land line at your home or business.
If you have friends, neighbors, or family members who are disabled, elderly, or housebound and are likely to need special assistance during an emergency or disaster, the Teller County Emergency Assistance and Response Program (EARP) can help. The EARP Program is integrated into the Reverse 911 system and will help the authorities to contact and locate them in an evacuation and determine if they need assistance. To sign up for this service, visit http://www.tellercountypublichealth.org/adult-health/seniors-and-disabled/emergency-assistance-and-response-program-earp.html or call Teller County Public Health at (719) 687-6416.
The Teller County website will also post emergency information on their home page in times of crisis, and you can visit the Office of Emergency Management page now to prepare. On the web site you will find links to a lot of practical information about disaster preparation. For example, you can learn how to make an emergency plan, how to protect your home from wildfire, and much more. Disaster Strikes Home, Teller’s guide for community readiness, is a good place to start educating yourself about what to do. Other websites can also help you prepare such as http://www.ready.gov/make-a-plan.
Also pay attention to National Weather Service flash flood watches and warnings. Web sites like www.noaa.gov or www.weather.gov can give you local weather forecasts and hazardous weather notices, and you can listen to local TV and radio. Of course, common sense is still the key to your safety. If you see danger approaching, take action rather than wait for someone to tell you what to do. If an evacuation order is given, heed it quickly. The longer you delay, the harder it may become to leave as traffic on the roads increases.
“Asses your own danger, and don’t wait to be told to evacuate. Be fire wise, and get out of the way. Get out and get your neighbors out.” said Tyler Lambert, Chief of the Northeast Teller Fire Department in Woodland Park.
You can help to protect your family, home, and business from a wildfire by creating a defensible space around your property. Move fuel sources like propane tanks and wood piles away from your buildings, and thin trees and remove dead braches and leaves ten feet up and thirty or more feet out depending on your slope. To learn more about it, visit www.readyforwildfire.org/defensible_space. You can dispose of your waste at the slash dump site in Divide. It will be open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. from May 3 through November 10 and costs $6 per pick-up truck load. More information about the slash dump can be found at http://divideslashsite.com.
“We need to get over our love for our trees and be willing to cut some trees so we don’t have to watch them burn,” said Jonathan Bruno of the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, which operates the Divide slash site and is coordinating the Waldo Canyon burn scar recovery effort. “We need to think about managing our forests at the landscape level. The green is better than the black.”
If you live in the flood zone, plan ahead now. Learn what to do if caught by a flash flood and make an evacuation plan. One place to get information about surviving a flash flood is http://www.floodsafety.noaa.gov. Another smart step is to complete a detailed inventory of your home or business and all of its contents. This is difficult to do after a loss, but is required by most insurance companies when you make a claim.
Also be sure that you have the right insurance, and know what your policy does and does not cover. Flood insurance is usually separate from a typical homeowner’s policy. You may also want to explore business interruption insurance. Make sure your insurance is adequate for your needs. Some residents who lost homes in the High Park and Waldo Canyon fires have found that they were underinsured by as much as $100,000, and their insurance companies depreciated the value of the contents of their homes by as much as 55%.
Of course, the scenario most likely to impact the most Teller residents is a road closure. If a fire or flood closes Ute Pass, the alternate travel routes will be through Deckers and Sedalia via CO Hwy 67 to the north and through Canon City via Teller 1 to High Park Road to CO Highway 9 to the south. It is also possible that traffic could be rerouted through Green Mountain Falls and Cascade. Rampart Range Road is not likely to be opened even in an emergency because any event that shuts down U.S. Highway 24 will probably have damaged Rampart Range Road too. Extra heavy equipment has already been pre-staged up Ute Pass to clear the road as fast as possible if necessary.
However, the best defense is a good offense even when dealing with Mother Nature. 79% of the 18,247 acres damaged by the Waldo Canyon fire are public lands. The Coalition for the Upper South Platte is working with the U.S. Forest Service and the National Resource Conservation Service to minimize threats to life and property and prevent the future degradation of land and water resources. A recently completed survey has identified critical areas needing mitigation work within the burn area in order to protect sensitive areas like Cascade, Sand Gulch, and U.S. Highway 24. Other areas of concern are the Air Force Academy and Colorado Springs utilities infrastructure.
CUSP has mitigation work in progress to stabilize the area in this critical first year after the fire, and the federal government has committed $7 million to help pay for it. The fire recovery is planned in three phases; emergency stabilization, rehabilitation, and restoration. There is a great need for volunteers to help with work on the ground in both the green and the black areas of the forest. If you are interested in participating, you can find information about how to volunteer and check the progress of the fire recovery efforts at www.waldofire.org.