Among the many fires erupting throughout the state of Colorado this week is the Royal Gorge fire, near Cañon City. Inciweb, the online national Incident Information System, currently puts this fire at over 3,000 acres and only twenty percent containment. It has prompted mass evacuations and at least twenty structures have been confirmed as destroyed.
In addition to the impact on residents, the fire has forced a temporary closure of the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park. The Royal Gorge Bridge is one of the world’s highest suspension bridges, and allows park visitors to travel across a quarter-mile journey to experience the scenic beauty of the Royal Gorge, the “Grand Canyon of the Arkansas River.” The bridge, built of both steel and wood materials, has been reported to have been damaged and initial reports suggested that the historic bridge tram may be destroyed. Other park structures have also been damaged or destroyed.
Heavy smoke from the fire also prompted the evacuation of more than 900 prisoners on Tuesday night, June 11, at the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility, a state prison southwest of Colorado Springs. Prisoners were temporarily taken to other prison locations throughout the state.
Public safety efforts have been tremendously successful and there have been no reported injuries or fatalities. Other impacts from the wildfire, however, will no doubt result in large consequences for this small community. The Royal Gorge Bridge and Park is a major tourist attraction and economic generator for the Cañon City area. Not only does the park lose visitors when it’s closed, but so does the entire community that relies on hotel guests, restaurant patrons, souvenir shoppers, and more. Rebuilding will strain already limited budgets. Mass evacuation of a prison also requires advance planning due to the extra precautions necessary when transferring prisoners.
These two examples remind us how wildfires can broadly impact a community by threatening many different assets, or “values at risk” – including critical infrastructure, neighborhoods, businesses, parks, and other facilities. Preparing for wildfire by taking actions to reduce risk is an important message delivered by the Fire Adapted Communities Coalition. Preparation should include an analysis of a community’s values at risk. Risk identification can be done through hazard mitigation planning or a Community Wildfire Protection Plan. Once the risks are identified, specific actions to reduce risk must be undertaken. Actions typically include fuel management activities on community landscapes and individual properties, response and evacuation planning, replacement of flammable materials with fire-resistive materials, and modification of other potential ignition sources. Actions can be supported through education and outreach programs, zoning ordinances, building codes, or other tools. Community-wide actions will lead to a more fire adapted approach. For more information on making your community fire adapted, visit fireadapted.org.
Photo credit/source: John Wark (http://www.koaa.com/news/royal-gorge-fire-update/)