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6/27/2013 Where There’s Smoke

Custer County residents have had a throat-choking, eye-watering encounter with Colorado’s viciously brutal fire season which started in early June and has burned hundreds of square miles of forest, destroyed hundreds of homes, and left tens of thousands of residents in various stages of evacuation.

For several days this past week, the Valley has been choked with smoke and dusted with ash from the devastating West Fork Fire – actually consisting of a trio of fires -- in the San Juan Mountains near South Fork, a good 200 miles distant. More than 81,000 acres – 126 square miles – of beetle-killed forest have burned with no containment in sight.

And that’s just the one currently most noticeable here. The East Peak Fire near La Veta, just south of us, has burned 14,000 acres (a number of volunteers with the Wet Mountain Fire Protection District are helping battle that blaze). The terrible Black Forest Fire northeast of Colorado Springs destroyed more than 500 homes – many at $1 million plus – and some 15,000 acres. The Royal Gorge Fire burned 3,200 acres, and destroyed nearly every building at the Royal Gorge Park. The bridge is intact, but the park will be closed all summer and well into late 2013. Add to these scores of fires large and small throughout the Southwest, and it promises to be the most destructive wildfire season ever.

In nearly every case, hundreds of mountain residents, and in some cases entire towns, have been evacuated, often on very short notice.

Over the years, we’ve had our share of wildfires here (just nine months ago, 16 homes in Wetmore were destroyed). Residents can be given mere moments to evacuate their property. We hope every resident has an evacuation plan in place. Various local resources – the county library, the county extension agent, the emergency management office and others – have information available on what to have on hand, what to have nearby, and what to do when officers come knocking on your door.

We hate the thought of a future fire here in Custer County. But we hope every citizen is prepared for what could be the inevitable.