Castle Rock to discuss wildfire protection plan

Fire chief describes how ‘perfect storm’ led to Boulder County tragedy

Thelma Grimes
tgrimes@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 1/11/22

When tragedy strikes in a neighboring community, it is common for city officials and public safety administrators to ask the obvious question: What if it happens here? After the Marshall Fire …

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Castle Rock to discuss wildfire protection plan

Fire chief describes how ‘perfect storm’ led to Boulder County tragedy

Posted

When tragedy strikes in a neighboring community, it is common for city officials and public safety administrators to ask the obvious question: What if it happens here? After the Marshall Fire engulfed Boulder County in a day, cities and towns across the Front Range not only provided assistance, but also started looking at their own procedures and plans.

In Castle Rock, Fire Chief Norris Croom said the fire department and town officials had already been working on an official Community Wildfire Protection Plan for two years. Croom said the final version is slated to go before the town council for approval in late January or early February.

Croom said the Marshall Fire that destroyed more than 1,000 homes and businesses in Boulder County on Dec. 30 has town officials evaluating what Castle Rock would do to evacuate residents quickly. In Boulder County, more than 30,000 people were evacuated.

There is no defense

Croom said the Marshall Fire is an example of every firefighter’s worst day. The longtime fire chief, with national credentials, said the Marshall Fire was the result of a “perfect storm” where there is no defense. With winds exceeding 100 mph, temperatures higher than normal and dry conditions as snowfall averages have been at record lows, Croom said the fire got out of hand in minutes.

“All fires do start small but when a small fire is not caught fast, it quickly grows,” Croom said. “Like the fires in California and the Marshall Fire, when you have wind-driven fires, there is nothing we can do to stop it.”

Helping in the efforts, Castle Rock Fire sent a wildfire unit to help battle the raging blaze. Croom said it is common to send specially-trained crews to wildfires in the region, while noting they keep enough crews in town to address any local issues that may arise.

Croom said discussion after any structure fire revolves around how closely homes are built, the materials used for construction and how close subdivisions are to fire departments. In the end, Croom said none of those issues can be blamed for fires like the tragedy in Superior.

The Marshall Fire, Croom said, had everything it needed to grow and destroy entire communities. With winds, the fire picked up debris and it flew to nearby subdivisions. Even in parts of Superior where homes were on lots of more than an acre, Croom said the fire was not stalled.

“Housing construction today or construction from the 1980s did not matter when 100 mile an hour winds provided all the fuel a fire needed,” Croom said.

What wildfire season?

Croom said the Marshall Fire is another reality check as people continue to refer to “wildfire season.” There is no longer is a wildfire season, Croom said.

“At one time you could say that late spring through early September was wildfire season,” Croom said. “But we have been saying for years there is absolutely no wildfire season. Wildfire season is year round. We are see just as big of fires in October.”

At one time, Croom said, fire season was designated as the time between late spring and early fall. With hotter temperatures, a drier climate and more fuel for fires, the Marshall Fire is proof the problem is no longer seasonal.

Establishing a local plan

Croom said establishing evacuation plans are not as simple as telling residents in the Meadows subdivision to take a specific road that leads to a highway out of Castle Rock. If the town labeled specific roads for evacuation, Croom said residents would have that in their minds and when tragedy strikes, they would take that route.

However, Croom said, fire officials can never give specific routes because there is a chance a fire or emergency causing an evacuation will be on that very route. Instead, Croom said, fire officials identify all subdivision and roadways that could get residents in and out safely.

Croom said besides getting residents out safely, emergency officials have to also take into consideration how to get the necessary resources in to address the danger.

All of these factors require a sophisticated plan that goes well beyond the inner workings of Castle Rock, Croom said. To prepare for the possibility of an evacuation scenario, Croom said Castle Rock works closely with state and regional officials, including the Douglas County Emergency Response Team.

In Castle Rock, Croom said, developing a sophisticated plan required input from the Castle Rock Police Department and other city departments with expert knowledge of the town’s roads, parks and buildings.

Ultimately, Croom said the entire plan is about getting citizens to designated evacuation points safely and as strategically as possible.

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