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Tollgate Fire Raises Concerns About Single Entry Communities

Lisa Powell

The Tollgate Canyon Fire has raised some concerns about single entrance communities.

The homes at Tollgate, like other developments in Summit County, have a single entry and exit point. This was a potential cause for concern for residents in Tollgate Canyon when fire officials had to close access to the homes due to the Tollgate Canyon Fire.

Summit County Manager Tom Fisher says that the Sheriff’s Department was prepared with an evacuation plan.

“The Sheriff was involved as well, very early and was preparing a plan to evacuate if things didn’t go the way they went. So, we have plans in place and they work on that immediately and make judgments along with the fire incident commander to see what would have to happen. Now in this case we’re in a one-access canyon up to this housing area. However, there is a crash-gate in the back of this development for these types of emergencies. We could access from both sides depending on where the fire is at, or access from one side or the other in order to evacuate.”

Although the fire moved eastward, officials were prepared to open the gate and allow people to exit via the Redhawk Ridge road. Fisher says he hasn’t seen the roads condition but says these crash gates are common in Summit County.

“I haven’t seen it either, so I can’t give you a judgment on that but it’s not unique in the county. Whether we’re talking about—even in the Silver Creek area where we’ve been talking about whether we provide other types of access into some of those areas. There is an emergency access right now up in Silver Creek, but it again is accessed by a crash gate. If you think about other areas that are in canyons that have a challenge with its primary access, being a one-way-in one-way-out. A lot of times those have secondary access that will have a crash-gate or some type of rougher surfaces that people will evacuate on.”

Fisher says the county does consider the creation and improvement of these crash gates as part of their emergency planning.

“I think a lot of it has to go back to legacy development that happened a long time ago. Sometimes those areas were considered cabin areas or not year-round, so they probably had different development standards at that time. When those kinds of things come in these days, like Southpointe in Promontory, we would have different standards around that so that we wouldn’t be in a situation where we couldn’t access from different ways.”

Fisher says that an additional issue is the turnover rate of residents in these areas.

“We also have quite a bit of turnover of housing in our county. A lot of times, between these events we lose the institutional memory of where the evacuation routes are. What ways you can get out, can you hike out? Can you take a vehicle out? A lot of that goes back to, we want to also be in there not only worrying about what those accesses are but also being in there educating HOA’s educating folks on a regular basis, so they have plans ready in place in order to evacuate if they need to.” Fisher continued, “While this fire was going on councilmember Carson was—although she wasn’t close to that fire it could’ve jumped that way up in Silver Creek--and she was getting herself ready to evacuate if necessary.”

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