More than 30% of Colorado residents are currently experiencing drought conditions. That’s more than 1.4 million people statewide. During a drought, an area and its residents experience below-normal precipitation for an extended period of time. The overall lack of rain or snow can dry out the soil, reduce water in streams, rivers, and lakes, and cause crop damage.
How Drought Can Lead to Fires and Affect Your Health
Drought conditions like the ones affecting Colorado right now, which can cause water shortages and crop damage, play a major role in the damage caused by wildfires as well. That’s because hot and dry conditions like the ones Denver residents are experiencing, combined with windy weather, dry vegetation, and just one spark, can cause wildfires to start and spread quickly. Fires that start either from human acts – like camping fires or power tools – or from lightning can grow quickly using the fuel created from plants and vegetation that is dry due to drought conditions.
Smoke due to wildfires can make the air quality outside and inside your home unhealthy. Even if you can’t see it, if you smell smoke from wildfires nearby, chances are you’re already feeling the effects of smoke inhalation. These can include a runny nose and a burning sensation in the eyes. To reduce the health risks caused by smoke indoors, consider installing a high-efficiency HVAC filter.
In Denver, CO, fire season happens year-round and residents must be on alert and prepared for the threat of wildfires. To prepare, residents and property owners should create a plan to help protect their family members and property. Here’s a checklist of information from the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and the Red Cross to help you prepare for the threat of wildfires caused by this year’s drought conditions.
Be Prepared With An Evacuation Plan
Creating and implementing a fire preparedness checklist will help ensure your family is prepared to evacuate safely and quickly in the event of a wildfire. If your home is threatened by a wildfire, listen to local radio and television stations for updated emergency information and leave promptly when requested by authorities. Bring valuable papers, mementos, and other items with you, packed securely. Bring pets with you secured inside a travel or carrying case. Before you leave the home, close all doors, windows, and vents. Remove flammable drapes and curtains and close shutters and blinds. Shut off natural gas, propane, or other fuel sources.
How Wildfires Impact Your Home
Homeowners should understand how wildfire embers and hot gases can breach a home’s foundation. Wildfires can ignite combustible foundation walls, penetrate crawl space vents, and breach basement windows. To minimize this risk, new construction should meet FEMA guidance. In homes with open foundations, protecting the underside of the home with fire-resistant materials can reduce wildfire damage. Decks and other attached structures should be made of heavy timber or noncombustible materials, enclosed with fire-resistant skirting, and surrounded by gravel, brick, or concrete pavers. Items stored in basements or crawl spaces can become fuel in a fire and should be removed. Encapsulating and insulating crawl spaces and protecting basements and foundations with fire-resistant materials is essential for Colorado homes.
After a wildfire threat has passed, do not return to your home until instructed by emergency officials. Avoid damaged or fallen power lines and downed wires. If damage has occurred, take photos, document the damage, and contact your insurance company as soon as possible. For business owners affected by wildfire damage, the U.S. Small Business Administration provides low‑interest federal disaster loans.
You Can Help Prevent Forest Fires
To help prevent forest fires from starting, it is important to know that 95% of all wildfires are started by human interaction. One of the main causes of wildfires is power tools and equipment, from lawnmowers to weed trimmers. Never use powered equipment outdoors on hot and windy days. It is also best to finish yard work before 10 a.m. and ensure that weed trimmers and lawnmowers do not have a metal blade when clearing dry materials.