The brush fire that broke out shortly after 12:00 noon today near CR 319 and U.S. 285 south of the Nachtrieb-Kelly Ranch has been contained, according to the Chaffee County Office of Emergency Management (OEM).
“It was a dress rehearsal for what could happen,” said Chaffee County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) Director Rich Atkins. “I had a spot report from the National Weather Service that wind gusts were over 40 MPH. I haven’t had time to check the wind speed at the Central Colorado Airport yet”.
He added that his last report was that more than 36 acres burned before being declared contained, but he hasn’t got the final report yet, which could reveal the acreage was a bit higher. He had compliments for the fire department that was on the scene almost immediately. “Excellent kudos to Chaffee County Fire for getting on this quickly. It could have been a lot worse. In this case, we lost no structures, just fencing, and nobody was hurt.”
Atkins said they don’t know yet what might have started the fire; which was officially a grassfire, not a wildfire.
He explained for the benefit of Chaffee residents, that his OEM role — actually written into the county’s emergency management plan — is to set up a resource center at the nearby airport for the first responders. In this case, they included the Buena Vista Police, responding fire departments, and the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office, so they can communicate and coordinate response. “I’m the guy who supports them with situational awareness, resource awareness, and consequence management,” he added.” OEM also arranges evacuation centers, in this case, it was the nearby Clear View Community Church. “Nobody showed up, and in this case that is good news.”
He added that a grass fire on March 23 gives the county time to do some adjustments to its pre-evacuation notification processes before the summer wildfire season. “It wasn’t the pre-evac as it normally would be. The tech failed us a little bit and pushed those pre-evac notices further than we planned. We use WEA (the wireless emergency alerting system) because we don’t have NWBS (weather radios) in this county. You don’t have to register for it – it alerts wireless phones. That had people calling us left and right, so people can’t say they weren’t notified.”
But, adds Atkins, the very fact that people were calling and asking ‘what do I need to do?’ concerns him as we face another drought-impacted wildfire season. “It tells me that a lot of people in the county do not have a plan. They don’t have a ‘go-kit.’ They haven’t stopped to think about what they need to plan ahead for the next emergency. Getting the word out about that now is important. I definitely don’t want to waste a good emergency.”
Feature image: The nearly 400-acre Kelly Ranch has had conservation easement on much of it since 2011. The brush fire that broke out along U.S. 285 near the ranch burned fencing, but no structures. AVV file photo.
To sign up for Everbridge — the county’s emergency alert notification system — go to chaffeesheriff.org/communications/everbridge .
There are pre-planning steps residents can take to get ready to evacuate well before a notice has been issued. To get started, visit Ready.gov/wildfire .
Improving community readiness through notification sign-ups and evac prep are listed as goals in the Chaffee County Community Wildfire Protection Plan.