Wildfires, by definition, are unplanned fires that burn in natural areas. And as we utilize the wilderness as our classroom, we are aware that wildfires are a constant element of consideration, especially in the drier months of the year. The recently increased fire risk and active fires in Colorado and Utah are a reminder that we, as public land users, have a responsibility to be aware, make good decisions, and adjust as conditions change. As such, we wanted to give you a glimpse into how we do this as an organization headed into our peak season.
Which resources do we utilize?
We work with local, state, and federal land management agencies in areas at risk of fire or impacted by wildfire smoke. This includes Colorado and Utah. The Wildfire Center on the State of Colorado’s website and Utah Wildfire Info are also valuable tools that we reference frequently, along with monitoring air quality via AirNow.gov.
Who on our team monitors this?
Our safety team, Rocky Mountain Program (Colorado) and Southwest Program (Utah) Directors and their program teams check these websites frequently and communicate their findings out to the rest of the team. This includes updates in our morning meetings and conversations with course directors and instructors during pre-course briefings. In other words, it is as much part of our daily dialogue as who’s going to be around for community lunch.
What is our plan in the event of fire bans/restrictions?
Our Safety Manager is in contact with land agencies on an ongoing basis to understand current conditions and to make decisions regarding itineraries in real time, which is then communicated to field staff. We also manage student activities on course, limiting or restricting the use of stoves for cooking, talking about responsible land use as part of our curriculum, and practicing Leave No Trace.
What is our plan in the event of active fires in our course areas or poor air quality?
We work directly with local, state, and federal agencies to reroute our itineraries to a location that is outside of the threatened area. In the case of poor air quality, we may reduce activity levels, adjust activities, wear masks, and/or move locations.
What is our plan in the event of active fires in our basecamp areas?
We have a site evacuation plan posted at each basecamp, listing protocols for evacuating staff, students, and animals off the premises. We have relationships in the local communities where we will be able to set up temporary shop in order to continue supporting operations in the field. If the local community is impacted as a whole, operations can move to our HQ in Denver.