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Wildfire Evacuation

The best time to prepare yourself for an evacuation is before it's an emergency.

This page is intended to help you prepare in case you need to evacuate your home due to a wildfire. The more prepared you are, the more effectively the Aspen Fire Department can protect people and property if a wildland fire threatens the area.


Wildfires are natural disasters. They can be uncontrollable, unpredictable, and evolve rapidly. As your fire protection district, we will make every effort to detect and attack a wildfire quickly and notify you as soon as possible. However, as a resident or visitor to Aspen, it's imperative that YOU recognize your safety and survival is in your own hands. Under specific conditions, wildland firefighting can be effective, but there are many scenarios for a fast-moving wildfire that will be beyond our capacity to control. Please take the time to read the sections below, so you can better understand how you and your family can survive a wildfire.

Click on the section below to expand it:

Before An Evacuation 
  1. Sign up for Pitkin Alerts.
  2. Create an Evacuation Plan.
    • Plan more than one escape route from your home or subdivision by car and by foot.
      • Pick two meeting places for your family:
        • A place a safe distance from your home.
        • A place outside of your neighborhood in case you can’t return to the area of your home.
      • Pre-identify areas of refuge near your house and on your commuting routes for if you are unable to evacuate. This could look like an irrigated field with low grass, a baseball diamond, an open area of a public park, a brick building, or even a swimming pool if necessary.
    • Make an Evacuation Checklist 
  3. Prepare a Family Evacuation Kit. (Make your custom list here.)
    • Consider including:
      • An extra pair of eyeglasses/sunglasses
      • Special items for infants, elderly or disabled family members
      • Sanitation supplies
      • Extra car keys and a credit card, cash, or traveler’s checks
      • Emergency tools including a battery-powered AM/FM radio, flashlight and plenty of extra batteries
      • A first aid kit that includes your family’s prescription medications
      • A three-day supply of food and water (food that won’t spoil)
      • Three changes of clothing and a change of footwear per person and one blanket or sleeping bag per person
  4. Prepare to evacuate childrenseniors, and people with disabilities.
  5. Prepare  your home and property by creating defensible space
When To Evacuate 

When Evacuation is a Possibility:

When a Red Flag Warning has been issued, or if a fire is burning nearby, you should take steps to prepare for the possibility of evacuation. Leave immediately if ordered. Don’t wait for an evacuation order if you feel unsafe or conditions change; leave early if unsure.

  1. Monitor all available information sources.
  2. Notify members of your household and neighbors to alert them to prepare for evacuation.
  3. Dress for survival.
  4. Grab your evacuation go-kit, evacuation map, car keys, IDs, your mobile phone, and a portable phone charger.
  5. Confine pets to one room. Make plans to care for your pets in case you must evacuate. Don't forget to prepare water, food, and medication.
  6. Back your car into your driveway, and load it up with your things so you’re ready to go at a moment’s notice. Shut doors and roll up windows.
  7. Regularly update an out-of-area contact of your phone number, location, and status.
  8. When you leave, drive defensively, head downhill, and stay in your car until you reach safety.
  9. Arrange temporary housing at a friend or relative’s home outside the threatened area.

If you’re sure you have time, take these steps to protect your home...


  • Close windows, vents, doors, venetian blinds or non-combustible window coverings and heavy drapes.
  • Shut off gas or propane. Turn off pilot lights.
  • Move flammable furniture into center of the home away from windows and sliding-glass doors.
  • Turn on a light in each room to increase the visibility of your home in heavy smoke.


  • Seal attic and ground vents with pre-cut plywood or commercial seals.
  • Remove gas grills from decks and patios, place propane tanks in garage.
  • Place combustible patio furniture inside.
  • Connect garden hoses to outside taps, leave in obvious location for firefighters.
  • Place a non-combustible ladder on house for access to roof for firefighters.
  • Remove firewood or any other stored combustibles near your home.
  • Remove all shrubs within 15 feet of your home.

When Evacuation is Definite:

If advised to evacuate, do so immediately and safely to avoid being caught in fire, smoke, or road congestion. Don't wait to be ordered by authorities if you are unsure, feel threatened, or lose power or communications. If you are advised to leave, do not hesitate!

  • Wear protective clothing-sturdy shoes, cotton or woolen clothing, long pants, long sleeved shirt, gloves and a handkerchief to protect your face.
  • Take your evacuation kit.
  • Lock your home.
  • Tie a white towel, sheet or ribbon on your front door; this advises emergency responders that your home has been evacuated.
  • Tell someone when you left and where you are going.
  • Choose a route away from fire hazards. Watch for changes in the speed and direction of fire and smoke.
  • Stay informed and aware. Listen to your radio for announcements from law enforcement and emergency personnel.
  • You may be directed to temporary areas to await transfer to a safe location.

If you are unable to evacuate on your own:

  • Ask a neighbor to assist you or give you a ride. Plan ahead and make a list of neighbors who may be able to assist you.
  • Call 911 if you are disabled or need assistance to evacuate.
  • If first responders are in your neighborhood, attempt to notify them that you require assistance.
Where To Go/ Areas of Refuge 

Evacuation Centers

Emergency managers will attempt to provide information on safe evacuation centers if time allows. Plan to drive towards highway 82 downvalley. For small-scale local evacuations or disaster recovery and sheltering, local schools, community centers, or large parking lots may be used.

Areas of Refuge

Open locations free of unburned vegetation may be safe places to wait while a fire passes. If your evacuation route is blocked or impassable, a wide parking lot, irrigated field, sports field, or even a house or commercial building may provide temporary shelter. Open areas (streets, intersections, and parks without flammable vegetation) within the City of Aspen Core may serve as safe areas to wait out the fire, so long as passing cars do not present a danger to you. Concrete parking garages or fire-resistive buildings may also work. In these instances, stay close to the exits, as you should be prepared to exit the building quickly if the building were to catch on fire. Golf courses and irrigated ski runs also make excellent areas of refuge. Parking your car, with windows up, in a location far from vegetation or structures, and waiting for the fire to pass, is often a safe option for sheltering in a temporary refuge or assembly area. Once the fire has passed, areas of burned fuel can also provide a safe, albeit uncomfortable, place to shelter from the remaining fire. Only use burned areas that are free from trees as trees often fall following a wildfire event. Authorities may choose to evacuate the temporary refuge areas en-masse when it’s safe to do so.

Shelter in Place

Wildfires are unpredictable and spread quickly. Even if you’ve prepared in advance, you may be required to shelter in place if ordered or if you find yourself trapped by a wildfire. To survive this frightening scenario, it is important to remain calm and keep everyone together. Prepare yourself mentally for darkness (even during the day), noise, chaos, and the natural urge to flee the safety of your shelter. If you are unable to evacuate, it’s probably safer inside a car or building where your airway, eyes, and skin are protected.

Take shelter in the nearby place that is best able to withstand the fire. This may be your home, another building made of more resistant materials or that is less exposed to burning vegetation, your car, or an open outdoor area like an irrigated playing field or parking lot far from vegetation. Stay calm and together while the wildfire passes. When directed, or when the fire outside subsides, move to a safer area.

If safe evacuation is not an option, follow these steps:

Shelter in a House or Building

  • A building should be your first choice for shelter if evacuation is not possible.
  • Close all doors and windows and leave them unlocked.
  • Keep car keys, cell phone, ID, and flashlight with you.
  • Gather all family members and pets (in carriers) and lay down near the front door, protecting your airway by breathing near the floor if it becomes smoky or hot.
  • Monitor the fire and be observant. Watch for small (spot) fires.
  • Call 911 and let them know your location.
  • Leave the house only if the house catches on fire, if it becomes too hot or smoky inside, or when it’s obviously safer outside.

Shelter in Your Car

  • If your escape route is blocked and there is no safe building nearby to take refuge in, park and stay in your car – it is far safer than being out in the open.
  • Never attempt to evacuate by unpaved fire roads.
  • Find a place to park on pavement that has little or no vegetation, in an outside turn if on a hillside.
  • Turn on headlights and emergency flashers to make your car more visible through heavy smoke.
  • Close all windows and doors, shut off all air vents and turn off the air conditioner.
  • Get below the windows, under blankets (preferably wool), and lie on the floor to shelter yourself from radiant heat if it becomes hot.
  • Call 911 and let them know your location.
  • Stay in the vehicle as long as possible.
  • Wait until the fire front passes and the temperature has dropped outside, then get out and move to a safe area that has already burned.
Getting To Safety 

Take Your Car

Media images of burned cars have left many with the misconception that cars are highly vulnerable to wildfires–the opposite is true. Your car provides a tremendous amount of protection. Made of glass and steel, it protects from hot gasses, embers, and radiant heat. As long as your car stays on pavement, it is extremely resistant to burning. With an AM/FM radio, air filtration and air conditioning, headlights, and protection from heat, your car is like a survival suit for wildfires.

Driving tips:

  • Turn your headlights on.
  • Wear your seatbelt.
  • Pick up neighbors, especially elderly or disabled residents who may be unable to evacuate on their own.
  • Fill every seat! Carpool!
  • Turn on inside air and air conditioning.
  • Tune to local news radio stations.
  • Proceed slowly and calmly.
  • Don’t pass cars when visibility is low.
  • Don’t panic in traffic. 
  • Stay on pavement.
  • Avoid stopping on “inside turns” on roads where unburned vegetation lies in a drainage below the road.
  • Take the car that is most capable of getting you out alive: an SUV (if possible) with the fullest tank of gas.
  • Stay in your car or a refuge area if trapped.
  • Fire roads are for firefighter use and are not a safe option for evacuation. Stay on pavement, in your vehicle, if possible.

Your Evacuation Route

When a wildfire threatens your community, emergency managers will determine areas to be evacuated, and routes to use, depending upon the fire’s current location and predicted fire behavior and areas of spread. Law enforcement officers are responsible for enforcing an evacuation order. Follow their directions promptly.

If time allows, officials will attempt to advise you of the safest evacuation routes. You must take the initiative to keep informed and alert. Listen to your local public radio for updates on changing conditions. Monitor for notifications and updates. You may be directed to temporary assembly or refuge areas to await transfer to a safe location.

Things to remember while evacuating:

  • Take the shortest PAVED route to a place of refuge in an open area – preferably a wide, paved road near a valley floor (this is usually the same route you take to get to the grocery store). 
  • Carry an evacuation map with at least two routes (if possible) in your go-kit.
  • The darkness and flames of a fire can be disorienting. Familiar landmarks may not be recognizable during a fire.
  • Don’t evacuate by fire road or “cross country” trails where you might be exposed to unburned vegetation. Do not attempt to evacuate down the Rio Grande Trail.
  • Never evacuate uphill or into open-space unless directed to do so by fire or law enforcement authorities. Being on a slope is more dangerous than being on an open, broad valley floor. 
  • Law enforcement or emergency personnel may direct you to an alternate route. Always follow their directions.
  • Drive your planned route of escape before an actual emergency.  This is most likely the route you normally take to leave your community, as that’s typically the shortest and is the route you’re most familiar with.
  • Don’t panic in traffic. The goal of evacuating (any emergency) is to get from a dangerous place to a safer place. Being in a car, on a paved road is a relatively safe location during a wildfire.
  • If you are in traffic on a hillside, avoid “inside turns” where a drainage or unmaintained, unburned vegetation lies below the road.
  • Abandoning your car to evacuate on foot is almost always MORE dangerous than waiting inside your car. 
  • Panic is deadly.

If There is Only One Way Out

If you live in a “one way in, one way out” neighborhood, as is common in Aspen, your escape route is predetermined.

  • Use the “one-way-out” direction and leave! Drive paved roads towards your neighborhood’s exit, and to the nearest town away from the fire. 
  • Follow instructions in the alert messages if they provide evacuation shelter or escape route information.
  • Do not attempt to evacuate by fire roads or open spaces where you might be exposed to burning vegetation. Fire roads are almost always more dangerous than being in your car on the pavement.
  • Don’t worry about fire engines blocking your way out of your neighborhood. When evacuation has been ordered, the fire’s Incident Commander will instruct fire engines not to enter areas where evacuation is occurring and two-way passage is not possible. Evacuation is the number one priority for firefighters.

If the Road is Blocked

  • Stay calm. Don’t panic.
  • Remember that your car provides a tremendous amount of protection from heat, smoke, and embers. It’s more dangerous outside of your car.
  • The presence of fire or flames on the roadside does not necessarily mean your road is blocked.  You can usually safely drive when there is a fire burning on the roadsides as long as you stay on the pavement.  
  • Being stuck in traffic in your car, on unburnable pavement, is usually safer than being exposed on foot.
  • If the road is blocked, try to clear the obstruction (if it’s safe to exit your vehicle).
  • Turn around only if the obstruction can’t be cleared.
  • If an alternate paved route is available and your main route is blocked, take it.
  • Try to drive away from the fire if possible, and take the shortest paved route to a valley floor if you’re on a hillside.
  • Do not leave your vehicle unless there is no other option or your car is on fire.  Leaving your car is the last resort and may prove deadly.  You are almost always safer in your car or a building.  
  • Do not abandon your car in the roadway.  Park it off the road if there is no other option.
  • Take refuge in an open, unburnable area like a ballfield, large parking lot, or shelter in your car or inside a building if no quick escape route is available and flames are approaching. See the section on sheltering in place (above).
  • Law enforcement can move a large number of vehicles through intersections if all vehicles follow directions.
Returning Home 

Fire officials will determine when it is safe for you to return to your home. This will be done as soon as possible considering safety and accessibility. When you return home:

  • Watch out for downed power lines and other hazards
  • Check propane tanks, regulators, and lines before turning gas on
  • Carefully check your home for hidden embers or smoldering fires
Evacuation Terminology 
  • Mandatory Evacuation/ Evacuation Order: Leave now! Evacuate immediately, do not delay to gather belongings or prepare your home. Follow any directions provided in the evacuation order.
  • Pre-Evacuation Notice/ Evacuation Warning: Evacuate as soon as possible. A short delay to gather valuables and prepare your home may be OK. Leave if you feel unsafe.
  • Shelter in Place: Stay in your current location. If you are outdoors, seek the safest nearby building or the safest unburnable area. Most often issued when evacuation isn’t necessary and quick fire department access is required, but in some cases may be issued if evacuation is too dangerous.
  • Seek an Area of Refuge: If a high-intensity wildfire is imminent, find the safest nearby building or area to allow the fire front to pass. Examples could look like brick buildings, parking garages, irrigated fields with minimal fuels, golf courses,  parks (away from trees that could fall), or even a swimming pool. 
Common Local Myths 

Firefighters have this under control.

False. We cannot save you. Your survival is your responsibility. In a wildfire, our limited resources will be focused on suppressing the fire. It is your responsibility to be informed and highly self reliant. 

Evacuation out of town will be quick.

False. You may have experienced heavy traffic exiting town on a holiday weekend around 5pm... try to imagine that scenario plus panicked citizens and emergency vehicles. A full wildfire evacuation of town could take 12+ hours depending on the situation. A "quick" evacuation is not a reality. We may ask you to leave sooner than you think is reasonable. 

I can find a shortcut to evacuate out of town.

False. The primary evacuation route is highway 82 downvalley. Attempting to shortcut town using Smuggler Street to McLain Flats Road will compromise first responders' access to town to bring in additional resources. DO NOT attempt to drive over pedestrian bridges like Marolt Bridge, down the Rio Grande Trail, or up Independence Pass. In most likely fire scenarios, these routes present unfavorable evacuation conditions and likelihood of vehicles getting stuck. 

If I get stuck in traffic, I can flee on foot. 

It depends. Wildfire scenarios can rapidly evolve from something as simple as a change in wind direction. You may be able to reach an area of refuge on foot or riding a bicycle. 

It is critical that you DO NOT abandon your car in the road and block traffic. Remember, if you are in a paved area away from tall trees, you can use your vehicle as shelter from radiant heat and flying embers, and will likely be safer in your vehicle than being exposed on foot.


For more information or if you have any questions, call or stop by our main office at the Aspen Fire Station at 420 E Hopkins.

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