We all knew it was coming. After a year and a half of hanging out in sweat pants, vacuuming a little less often, dust accumulating on window sills, and ignoring the pet fur accumulating on the couch, it’s here.
“Hey Leslie, we got vaccinated and we were thinking we’d come to visit for a few days. Colorado seems so appealing compared to the heat and humidity of Missouri.”
Here come the house guests.
If your house is anything like my house, once your friends and family found out you were living in the mountains of Colorado, they couldn’t wait to schedule a visit. The first year after we bought our house brought a parade of people — in-laws, cousins, and friends. Perhaps the most curious of those was the couple between jobs who just got married and thought they’d spend part of their honeymoon at our alpine aerie.
After so much social isolation, it can seem like a blessing to welcome people back into your home in the foothills. But what do your house guests need to know when staying with you during wildfire season?
Your house guests might already be aware of fire bans by the signs on the road they see when driving to your home. They might arrive asking “What does a Level 1 Fire Ban mean?” If you want to be proactive, you could email the link to the county’s fire restrictions to your guests in advance.
Education. Where are your visitors coming from? If they live in Colorado Springs, you might not need to inform them about the perils of wildfire as much as your friends from Louisiana. For those hailing from wetter and more humid climates, assume they have no idea what living in the wildfire zone is all about. Reflect upon your own experience to when you first moved to the foothills. What important things do they need to know for their own safety?
Evacuation. Let them know that a fire could break out at any time and describe what your evacuation plan looks like. Where would you go? How would you communicate with each other? They may only be visiting for a few days, but that doesn’t mean something won’t happen. A friend of mine in Nederland had her parents from the bay area in California visiting during the Cold Springs fire. When they were ordered to evacuate, her parents panicked. What should they do? Where were their prescriptions? Should they take all their luggage with them?
Remember, an evacuation could last only a few hours up to several weeks. Prepare your visiting friends and family the way you would prepare yourself. Perhaps even stage a mock evacuation for everyone to leave your house in 15 minutes or less. Practicing these things in advance can help them in the event a real evacuation occurs.
Are there times your house guests will be hanging out in your house alone while you’re at work? You might not live in a place where they will get cell service. Do you have a landline? You might want to encourage them to check caller ID for phone calls coming into the house if you have a landline and answer calls coming from Emergency Management. Otherwise, be prepared to keep in close contact with them by text or email so you can alert them to an evacuation order.
Do they know the emergency egress routes for your neighborhood? Post a map with the routes in the common spaces. It’s easy to get flustered in a crisis, so making things as easy as possible can insure their safety. Do they have a vehicle available for them to use? If not, how would someone get to them? What about your pets? Do they know your plan for evacuating your pets? Consider leaving a neighbor’s contact information who is home for them to call as a back-up to contacting you.
Fire Restrictions. Are your house guests aware of the current fire restrictions in place? A bonfire in the backyard might seem charming to your friends from Philadelphia, but is prohibited during Level 1 fire restrictions. My father-in-law came to visit for two weeks in early September years ago. He loves smoking cigars, which we don’t allow in our house. Not aware of the fire restrictions, he walked out into the dry grass to smoke, which was prohibited. Consider posting the flyer published by Boulder County and posting it on your refrigerator or another common place so they are aware of the restrictions.
Reporting. What if your house guests are hanging out on your deck and see smoke wafting up from the hill opposite your house? Or they spot an illegal campfire on the Forest Service land near you home? They probably know to call 911 in the event of an actual fire, but is the local county non-emergency dispatch phone number posted? They can always call in with the location of an illegal campfire or a wisp of smoke to the county dispatch. Better to be safe than sorry. Boulder County’s non-emergency dispatch number is 303-441-4444.
Short Term Rentals. Do you rent your home out to short term renters? Have you signed up with Boulder’s Office of Emergency Management to be notified in case of a wildfire? Make sure you have a confirmed method for contacting your short term renters — either email or cell phone. In all likelihood, you’ll need to contact them to let them know about an evacuation order.
In short, treat your house guests with a willingness to look out for their safety, and reassure them of what living in the wildfire zone means. They’ll probably enjoy their visit a lot more with the confidence they know what to do that you provided to them.