When It Comes to Fire, Conifer Isn’t So Lit


Amelia Hobgood

The logo and flag for the Elk Creek Fire Department. They hold a tremendous role in the community by making sure Conifer is protected from wildfire and other emergencies. “It’s crazy how many people don’t know who their fire department is,” Ware said.

Even when the ground is blanketed with snow or the air is crisp and chilly, the threat of wildfire never disappears. Fires are a part of a natural cycle, and any season can be a threat. But for the Conifer community, the danger is even greater. According to the Evergreen Chamber of Commerce, the Conifer and Evergreen areas rank #1 in Colorado and top 10 nationally for the risk of catastrophic wildfires with significant losses. 

“A lot of our infrastructure is not designed for the amount of people that live up here. Many of the roads and properties were designed 50-80 years ago, and now we have a lot more people so the small, two-lane, curvy roads are not ideal,” Elk Creek Fire Department Chief Jacob Ware said. 

Conifer High School, like the rest of the Conifer community, is surrounded by forests. Elk Creek Fire Marshal Roger Parker spoke about how this setting makes the area particularly vulnerable to wildfires. 

“Fortunately for us, the building is made of a lot of brick and a lot of non-flammables,” CHS Principal Gregory Manier said. 

The school has many measures in place to protect against a fire in the building. The school was constructed using fire-resistant materials and has a sprinkler system triggered by heat sensors. If heat is detected by these sensors, the water from the small pond at the bottom of the school road is pumped into the building. According to Manier, it’s more likely that the school would suffer from water damage rather than damage from a fire inside the building. 

“Our danger from a fire would come from outside way faster than it would come from inside,” Manier said. 

As the Fire Marshal for Elk Creek, Parker’s job is to make sure that buildings are safe and equipped with the right tools to deal with fires. One part of this job is reviewing plans for new construction, so anytime something is built Parker makes sure that it meets all the fire codes and safety requirements. His job also requires that he makes sure existing buildings are safe. He does annual fire code inspections on buildings, making sure that everything is safe for employees and occupants. However, Parker isn’t the only one doing hard work to keep the community safe.

“We have paid firefighters on duty all day, every day. Then we also have our volunteer staff, and they handled 911 calls. So if you call 911 someone from our career side or our volunteer side will respond,” Ware said. 

For Ware, a lot of responsibility rests on his shoulders. He has been the fire chief for Elk Creek for over two and a half years, and in this position, he is responsible for everything the fire department does. The fire department doesn’t just do emergency response. They also do a lot of proactive risk reduction in the community and public outreach. 

However, the fire department shouldn’t be the only ones doing work to keep the community safe. Residents of Conifer should be doing as much as they can to reduce risk on their house and property. 

“It’s very important to become educated,” Ware said. “Fire mitigation isn’t about cutting down all your trees. Now there’s more of a restoration forest model, where it’s cutting down select trees to break up fuel continuity.”

Mitigation is important to keep homes safe and less dangerous in the presence of a fire. If a resident is seeking help in mitigating their home, Elk Creek Fire Department can help, as well as a few other fire mitigation businesses near Conifer such as Wynn’s Mountain Services and Blue Sky Fire Mitigation. But there is a lot more that can be done besides mitigation

“The biggest thing is to become educated on what home hardening means,” Ware said. 

So what is it? Home hardening, sometimes referred to as fireproofing, involves changing the most vulnerable components of a house using materials and certain installation techniques. This equips the home to be better protected against flames, heat, and embers in the case of a fire. This can be one of the most important ways to keep houses safe, so it’s beneficial for a resident to try visiting Rotary Wildfire Ready to learn more about what can be done to harden a home. Or sign up through Elk Creek’s website to talk to their mitigation specialist, Kelly McConnaughey.

Conifer is a dangerous place to live when it comes to wildfires, but with everything the fire department is doing and everything that residents can do for their own homes within the community, the risk can be reduced. 

“Fires don’t just happen. They don’t become 100,000-acre configurations in five minutes. There’s a slow build-up, and hopefully emergency managers, the sheriff’s department, and the fire department, they would be ahead of that and they would see the fire building and they would call for evacuations,” Ware said.