By Lyndsie Ferrell
DEL NORTE—During the regular monthly meeting of the Rio Grande County Commissioners on May 30, the board held a brief discussion about an emergency shelter with Department of Social Services Director Jody Kern. Kern mentioned to commissioners that the department was responsible for putting together an emergency shelter in case of an incident and felt that a discussion needed to take place before another fire occurred in the region.
“We need to have a meeting with Emergency Manager Chris Ortiz and discuss details on how we are going to handle a shelter, in case we need to set one up again. Communication during the Park Creek Fire was good, but it needs to be better,” said Kern. She continued, explaining that during the fire, the people who had been evacuated were campers that were self-sustaining, unlike those that could have been removed from their actual homes.
“I do not want to use limited resources to take care of people who could honestly just go to another campground and care for themselves. If people had been evacuated from their homes, we would have set up a shelter,” said Kern. During the West Fork Complex Fire, the department offered a shelter to anyone who needed it and ended up using several resources to care for those who had been evacuated, including campers from local campgrounds.
Commissioner Karla Shriver spoke up on the topic and stated that, “We dodged a serious bullet with this fire, and we need to get key people to the table and go over the existing plan in order to eliminate any confusion. Maybe we can compile a list of alternate campgrounds to people who are evacuated while camping, so they have another place to go to instead of setting up a shelter.”
Kern continued, stating that in the event of a fire the people who have been evacuated from their homes need the man power and resources more than people who are out camping and can care for themselves. “The fire plan was updated last year by Chris, but I think we need to add to it and change some things so that we can reserve our resources for those that are evacuated from their homes. Maybe, if we are all prepared it won’t happen,” said Kern.
She also stated that there were aerials coming out of Pagosa Springs that monitor the forest for lightning strikes and other hotspots on a constant basis. “They fly out of Pagosa daily at about 30,000 feet to monitor the area. I guess they constantly do this.”
Commissioners ended the conversation by stating that a date needs to be set for a meeting with government officials and emergency managers in order to go over all fire plans. They would invite all county officials from the immediate area including those from Creede and possibly Lake City, as well as Pagosa Springs.