New wildfire season emphasizes campus preparedness

April 13, 2015

Eleanor Skelton
[email protected]

Red flag warnings have already been issued several times this month, an early start to wildfire season.

The Waldo and Black Forest burn scars from 2012 and 2013 are still visible from major roadways, and drought has continued.

“Most wildfires are started by the actions of people, whether that’s intentional or unintentional,” said Tim Stoecklein, the program director of Emergency Management on campus.

“We’re very involved with our partners with CSFD with mitigation on and around campus, and we encourage our entire campus community to take steps to prepare and protect themselves and our community.”

Stoecklein met on April 10 with the city’s wildfire mitigation unit to clear more areas on campus, mostly areas up on the bluffs.

Before the most recent wildfires, UCCS began working with CSFD in 2005 to mitigate campus, according to Stoecklein.

In 2013 and 2014, Stoecklein’s team and the CSFD mitigated around the Family Development Center, Eagle Rock, University Park, on the bluffs behind Alpine Village and the scrub oak near the Academic Office Building.

He explained the undeveloped land between Alpine Garage and the Lane Center is all considered wildland urban interface (WUI), and they have also mitigated that area. WUI in Colorado Springs, which is more integrated into city development than other areas, pose a concern during fire season.

Carl Monroe, Ph.D. student at the Florida Institute of Technology, was a volunteer firefighter for eight years while completing his undergraduate degree in physics and master’s in engineering at UCCS.

His group mitigated homes in El Paso County on a volunteer basis.

“Over the course of years, we did hundreds of properties in and around the Colorado Springs region,” Monroe said. “We were out in Elbert, we were down south toward Canon City, we never made it quite up to Black Forest until after the fire, unfortunately.”

“With Waldo Canyon, we were part of the cleanup crews. During Black Forest Fire, we were actually out along Elbert Road, we could actually see the flames, we were pretty close to that one,” he explained.

Monroe is a Colorado native. He and his family lived near Fort Carson and Highway 115, which was threatened by several smaller fires.

A 100-foot radius clear of grass, trees, firewood and fuel tanks around a home is advised, Monroe explained.

Wildfire and flood preparedness week was March 15-21.

Stoecklein explained during this week, the National Weather Service presented information from their offices in Pueblo, Boulder, Grand Junction and an office in Kansas that services some Colorado counties.

Three out of the five days were dedicated to flood safety, and the other days focused on wildfire prevention, Stocklein said.

“Identifying your risks is one of the first steps to preparing for them,” he said.

The Department of Homeland Security, Pikes Peak Red Cross, CSFD and several other city and county emergency management and public safety agencies were also involved.

During winter break, UCCS also hosts a firefighter’s conference that is supported by conference services. The Office of Emergency Management also attends some of the events during the conference.