(Story, Wyo.) Story Volunteer Fire Department held a meeting on Saturday to inform Story’s citizens of fire prevention programs that are open to public participation, and to provide an update on Story’s fire evacuation plan.
Story currently has no evacuation plan, but Fire Chief Ken Damon and Sheriff Alan Thompson are working to create one.
“I recently found out that there was no evacuation plan,” Damon said. “So I gathered up the best and brightest and people who know everything about those subjects.”
Damon said that Story’s lack of central government makes it difficult to develop an evacuation plan and circulate it to residents. Story’s lack of outbound roads, meanwhile, make the evacuation itself problematic.
“If you look at any of the other towns, there’s a lot of roads coming in and out of them,” Damon said. “It makes it a lot easier to evacuate any other census designated place or city in the county of Sheridan other than Story. It’s a difficult place to evacuate.”
Thompson said that one of the most critical components of evacuation is notifying residents that they need to evacuate. He encouraged Story residents to sign up for Code Red, a service that sends a notification to residents if there is an emergency situation in their area. He hopes that this service, combined with word of mouth, will make evacuation easier.
“Hopefully we’ll know ahead of time enough that we can get adequate notification to people up here, get people rolling, and then come up here and direct traffic so that we don’t have any choke points,” Thompson said.
Chris Thomas, the county fire Warden, stressed the importance of fire prevention and mitigation.
“The most important thing to do, you can do it when you go home,” Thomas said. “And that’s just keeping your house clean.”
A buffer zone has been cleared between Story and the Bighorn Mountains, and some Story residents are hoping to widen it, but halting wildfire fronts can only do so much to prevent destructive fires in Story.
Damon said that many of the crown fires he has seen– fires which spread from treetop to treetop– started in the middle of town.
“We’ve put out four to five crown fires right in the middle of town,” Damon said. “The biggest threat is one starting right in the middle of town.”
Furthermore, ember storms caused by a wildfire can affect areas up to a mile away from the fire’s front. Paul Wright explained the danger that ember storms pose.
“It’s not necessarily the flaming front that comes up and burns down your cabin,” Wright said. “It’s usually the ember storm ahead of that flaming front throwing firebrands. And when they land on your shake shingle roof or they get into your attic because you don’t have screens on or something like that, that’s where the problems occur.”
An untidy lot with lots of vegetation is more vulnerable to the damaging effects of embers than a clean lot.
To hinder the spread of fires and decrease the likelihood of a fire caused by an ember storm, the federal government has created programs that compensate landowners for making their property fire-retardant.
One of these programs, the Western States Wildland Urban Interface Grant, pays for half the cost of making the property more resistant to wildfire. Although funding has already run out this year, homeowners who benefit from the grant may not need to pay any money for their improvements at all.
“Fifty-fifty, from a landowner standpoint doesn’t mean that that’s hard cash,” Wright said. “That can also mean in-kind.”
In kind contributions include the cost of physical labor, which homeowners often provide. The program counts the value of labor at $24.14 per hour.
“Even though you don’t spend any money, your time counts up for that,” Wright said. “And if you use your truck, you get miles for that. So that’s how most of the landowners make up their 50 percent.”
Wright explained the process of applying for this grant.
“You would sign up on an application; you would call me; I would come; we would walk your ground; we would look at it; I would do an assessment; we would do an assessment on your structure; we’d look at your fuel situation,” Wright said. “If you wanted to continue, you would file an application. From that point, I would write you a plan, give you the plan, and then you would have, typically, one year to get your project done.”