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Firefighters concerned about evacuation routes, or lack thereof, in Sunshine Canyon

Sunshine Fire Protection District chief said residents at risk of being trapped by wildfires
Firefighters concerned about evacuation routes, or lack thereof, in Sunshine Canyon
Posted at 5:17 PM, Jan 04, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-04 19:32:29-05

SUNSHINE, Colo. — The Sunshine Fire Protection District is a fully volunteer fire department, with just under 30 members serving approximately 170 homes in the area. Chief Michael Schmitt is concerned about the evacuation ability of many of the residents they serve if a fire were to hit the Sunshine Canyon.

Schmitt has been a firefighter for 20 years, and drove Denver7 down County Road 85 to illustrate the problem when it comes to evacuation routes in the canyon. He said it's an issue that stretches across the Front Range.

As mountain communities continue to grow, and fire seasons become worse, the fire chief would like to see a proactive solution for evacuation routes in such areas.

Firefighters concerned about evacuation routes, or lack thereof, in Sunshine Canyon

"Especially in high winds, there's always a chance of getting trapped. That's the reality of being in the mountains," said Schmitt. “It's been a struggle finding, you know, an ear to the urgency of that situation because it's not just us. So many districts in the area have similar situations.”

Bumping down the one-way County Road 85, Schmitt said there are currently five homes along the stretch, with two more under construction. The burn scar of the 2010 Fourmile Canyon Fire surrounds the road.

“Basically, as the fire department, you have to wait for people to get out first before you can get in," Schmitt explained. “So what, it takes us 10, 20 extra minutes to get to the fire because now we are dealing with having to wait for residents to get out.”

Schmitt said the department has been working with Boulder County for more than 20 years on this issue. He said County Road 85 used to connect to Salina and Fourmile Canyon, providing an alternative direction for residents to drive, but the road has not been in that condition since the Boulder floods in 2013. He would like to see it repaired to give residents the option of heading that way in an emergency, and to allow the Fourmile Fire Protection District to help in the event of a fire along the road.

“There's always hope, and we'll continue the conversation," said Schmitt.

Denver7 reached out to the Boulder County Board of County Commissioners to see if there are plans to update the road, and received the following response:

Boulder County continues to mitigate against wildfires in our mountain and plains communities, most recently with the voter-approved Wildfire Mitigation Ballot Measure in November. As a founding member of the multi-agency partnership Boulder County Fireshed [], the county is committed to reducing the risk of wildfire to its people, communities, recreation areas, and natural resources through closely coordinated forest management across all lands. Through its Wildfire Partners program [], the county also works with homeowners to mitigate against the risk of wildfire to their homes.

Within the geographic area of unincorporated Boulder County there are more than 740 miles of public roads, each with a specific designation based on several factors, including average daily use, location, and surface condition. County Road 85-J, which connects County Road 85 with Gold Run Road, is classified as an unpaved “Jeep road”, which closely resembles a trail and is very narrow and steep in parts. It is not maintained for access by passenger cars and only four-wheel drive or high-clearance vehicles are recommended. The property on either side of this road is privately-owned and the county does not have plans to change the road’s classification and maintenance.
Spokesperson, Boulder County Commissioners