“Fighting Back Fire” from the Denver Post

From CoreLogic Study
From CoreLogic Study

As I’ve said, I never learned how to do professional media analysis. Still I think it’s worth comparing the Rolodex Factor of the Denver Post story here to that of the NPR story below. These people are livin’ it, rather than modelin’ it. I give Bruce a 9.5/10 for this story.

Below is an excerpt:

Community fireproofing avoids the core issue of building in burn zones and, fire chiefs warn, is powerless against wind-driven super fires, such as the High Park, Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires that destroyed more than 1,000 homes this year and last.

Yet proponents contend that better community self-protection will minimize destruction.

“If it is a big crowning fire, we know what could happen. But if it is a moderate fire, we will have a fair chance of surviving,” said retiree Jim Lee, 69, who installed a rooftop sprinkler on his house in the woods near Frisco.

Lee also ripped cedar panels off the house and replaced them with nonflammable cement siding and switched roofing to fire-resistant shingles. He cleared a firebreak around the house, and got a special permit to thin dead pines 100 feet into the adjacent national forest.

Lake Dillon Fire Rescue District Deputy Chief Jeff Berino called Lee’s home “incredibly well-defended” — the gold standard as Summit County girds against wildfires likely to ignite on 156,000 acres of beetle-killed forest.

Dealing with Colorado’s wildfire problem more aggressively — by banning new building in burn zones — would probably be impossible, state natural resources officials say.

“It’s extremely hard to say to an individual who has bought land in the mountains that they cannot build on it. They may even have a legal right to develop it,” said Colorado Counties Inc. lobbyist Andy Karsian. “Development in the wildland-urban interface is going to happen. The question is how we find that balance between the personal responsibility for living in an area that will have fire and having good regulations.”

Strategies evolving While fireproofing must not substitute for wise planning, it makes sense, said Scott Fitzwilliams, supervisor of the White River National Forest, which spans an area from Meeker to Breckenridge and is plagued by a beetle epidemic.

“More and more of the risk associated with wildland firefighting is in the protection of homes and other structures,” Fitzwilliams said. “When we have these communities built right up against the National Forest boundary, we have a challenge to ensure we can manage or at least try to fight fire in a safe manner.”

and dealing with existing development:

But fireproofing has limits.

Policy debate”We can make the mountains safe by paving them. That’s not why we live in Colorado,” state emergency management director Kevin Klein said. “What level of protection are we going to to be able to afford and still enjoy what makes many people want to live in Colorado? That’s what policymakers are going to debate.”

Klein serves on a state task force charged with recommending state-level action to help deal with building in burn zones.

Beyond fireproofing houses and towns, “we have to look at where we are allowing new development to occur,” said Summit County Commissioner Dan Gibbs, who works as a wildland firefighter. “I don’t want to be voting for new development in areas where I think there’s going to be a major, catastrophic fire.”

Dealing with existing development looms largely unaddressed. Fireproofing tens of thousands of homes in forests could cost homeowners millions. An indoor water sprinkler system or underground cistern can raise house-building costs by more than $10,000.

There seem to be enough problems in Colorado without invoking future climate change.

A 2012 CoreLogic study of 13 Western states for insurers shows that after California and Texas, Colorado has more high-risk homes than any other state. At a time when dense forests and drought lead to high-speed wildfires, the study found 121,249 Colorado homes at very high risk for wildfire damage.

Texas is number 2 with one national forest. Who knew? Here’s a link to the CoreLogic study. Kudos to Bruce for linking to the source of the data.

13 thoughts on ““Fighting Back Fire” from the Denver Post”


    The two graphs at the top tell a pretty big story:

    1) Figure #2 tells me that ignition is pretty much independent of management with an average number of ignitions of approximately 70,000 wildfires with no obviously significant trend line and maybe less variation in the more recent years of the 1985-2011 time period. This leads me to conclude that the primary cause of fires has not changed over the time period (lightning, recreational and arson)

    2) Figure #3 tells a whole different story:

    — A) What I see is a very significant trend line that shows that as we get increasingly further from the times prior to 1992, as harvest levels decreased, there were less openings of any significant size in the forest to bring crown fires to the ground. So, in my humble opinion, this supports the contention of many foresters that the lack of sound forest management is the primary cause of the increase in total acres burned.

    — B) Further more if we look at the trend line between 1985 and 1995 we can see that sound forest management was actually reducing the total acres burned year over year. The reversal after 1995 was possibly a combination of a lag time in creating more dense stands from reduced thinning and from height growth on former clearcuts without new clearcuts to replace them in order to bring crown fires to the ground.

  2. If you go further back in history, to the 60’s and 70’s, you see MUCH lower annual acres burned. Back then, much more people were working in the woods, and available for fighting fire. There used to be more Agency personnel that were fire qualified, as well. Additionally, the emergence of Let-Burn policy has turned small lightning fires into giant fire storms, tying up fire resources for WEEKS at a time. It’s just really sad that people are willing to sacrifice so much to support “faith-based” forest mismanagement.

      • The graph here only goes back to 1985 because I believe it is using the MTBS data set (http://www.mtbs.gov/index.html) which started with LandSat2. I should be noted that the figure only represents fires 1000 acres or larger in western US and over 500 acres in the eastern US. Data sets that are available for pre 1985 are somewhat questionable as many fires (not suppressed by feds) are not recorded and mapping was far less accurate than it is today.

  3. There are many reasons why wildfire costs have spiraled so steeply upward but, these figures are mind-boggling.


    The most notable figures are the differences between 2005 and 2006.

    2005 8.6 million acres burned $690 million dollars
    2006 9.8 million acres burned $1.5 BILLION dollars

    Certainly, you CANNOT place that much blame on “building homes in the WUI” for that much of a difference. That year was the “poster child” for letting fires burn and letting costs rise. Even 2010 was a mild fire season and it cost $200 million more than 2005.

  4. “While fireproofing must not substitute for wise planning, it makes sense, said Scott Fitzwilliams, supervisor of the White River National Forest …” Kudos to the Forest Service for 1) recognizing the role and value of planning first, and 2) strongly implying that the Forest Service has some ‘drothers’ about where and how development on private land should occur. I hope line officers are expressing these opinions on behalf of the national forests as part of relevant local planning processes. I’ve seen a reluctance to do that.

    • John: I think the USFS is having enough problems managing its own lands without interceding on private land development. Ideally, they would adjust their management plans based on the actions of private citizens and businesses, rather than expecting others to adjust to their own objectives. Especially given current circumstances. And the USFS record with “plans” the past few decades.

      • One of the problems the Forest Service has managing its own lands is what is happening on nearby private lands (see http://www.fs.fed.us/openspace/fote/national_forests_on_the_edge.html). I’m not advocating interceding or adjusting, but rather collaborating on solutions that address both local and national needs. The new planning rule states that, “The responsible official shall coordinate land management planning with the equivalent and related planning efforts of” others including local governments (219.4(b)), and, “The responsible official may participate in planning efforts of States, counties, local governments, and other Federal agencies, where practical and appropriate.” (219.4(a)). In my opinion, a line officer would be shirking their responsibilities if they do not represent the interests of federal land management in these other planning efforts.

  5. If you favor coordination between state, federal and other adjoining land owners please let you US Senators and Representative know what you think on these two bills

    POPVOX is the best way that I know to keep your thoughts before your US Senators and your Representative. I have been using POPVOX since it came out in beta form several years ago. It doesn’t get any easier than this. It requires very succinct comments.

    Currently there are 15 or so bills that you need to weigh in on.

    GO TO:
    – Look for forestry related bills under the menu on the left of the webpage under the following headings:
    — Agriculture and Food
    — Environmental Protection
    — Public Lands and Natural Resources
    – And many others related to your non forestry interests

    SIGN UP and you can get weekly updates on new bills related to the areas that you have expressed interest on


Leave a Comment

Discover more from The Smokey Wire : National Forest News and Views

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading