Earlier this morning at the Backyards & Beyond opening general session, Chief Robert Gann received the first-ever Wildfire Safety Exemplary Service award, and this afternoon he gave a great presentation on the High Park Fire in Rist Canyon, Colorado. On June 9, 2012, lightning sparked a wildfire that eventually burned 87,284 acres, destroyed 254 homes and led to one fatality.
The size of the fire was based on many unique factors, inlcuding the area's terrain, the dry, hot and windy conditions, and the remoteness of the area and the homes within it. Only 4 roads were in the entire 87,284 acres, so access to homes and to the edges of the fire was very limited. However, the residents and fire service members had been preparing for a wildfire of this type for years. Many houses did survive because of the focus on defensible space in the community. Chief Gann admits that more emphasis could have been placed on home ignition to educate the public on the home ignition zone, but they now know to focus on this for the future. The evacuation was also very timely and orderly, people self-evacuated before they were told to do so. The response was also a success, all regional crews worked together following years of training and working together on other fires. All of this helped to alleviate any issues that came up.
Overall, the 21 day evacuation was one of the longest the community, or any other fires of similar scope, have seen. Many important lessons can be learned from Chief Gann and the Rist Canyon community, and brought back to attendees communities to help them prepare and react to wildfires of any size in the future.