Despite moisture, fire risk remains high

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While Colorado has seen more moisture to date than in previous years, that doesn’t mean the state is out of the woods when it comes to wildfire. Years of inadequate rainfall still take a toll on trees, keeping firefighters concerned, according to Fran Santagata, state community preparedness program manager.

“It’s like a 60-year-old person who’s abused their body,” explained Santagata, who spoke at a town hall meeting hosted by state Rep. Spencer Swalm on June 22 at Centennial’s Koelbel Library. “All those years of smoking, no exercise and poor diet can be corrected, but the benefits of doing so are not going to happen overnight.”

Some climatologists speculate it may take years before the state’s forested areas will be able to recover.

Although recent rains have helped green up many areas, Santagata said the crisp new vegetation is deceiving. “All the green stuff makes it look like we’re doing pretty good, but without consistent moisture, that new growth can quickly dry out and become fuel, too,” she cautioned. “We are a long ways from being where we need to be.”

Increases in high-density housing in and around the wildland-urban interface areas also create problems. Santagata, who served as Douglas County emergency manager prior to her current position, said many of the homes lost in both the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires were lost to embers blowing from one burning home to another.

She added that simple things like pruning trees and shrubs, and keeping gutters and rooftops clean of leaves and debris, can make a difference.

But Santagata, said situational awareness often offers the biggest advantage.

“Knowing what your risks are, as well as being tuned in to local news and alerts, can save lives,” she said. “Even here in Centennial, there are pockets around the city with moderate fire danger. So, it’s not just homes in the forest; we all need to be prepared, no matter where we live, and that means being ready to leave on a moment’s notice — because that may be all you have.”

BREAKOUT BOX

Learn about fire danger

• For information on preparing for wildfire or other disasters, visit www.readycolorado.com

• To see fire risk in your neighborhood, visit www.coloradowildfirerisk.com, select “Public viewer,” type in an address and click on “Show legend.”

• To sign up for emergency alerts within Arapahoe County, visit www.co.arapahoe.co.us, select “Sheriff” from the “departments” drop-down menu and then click on the large “Citizen Alert” button.