Colorado knows the steps to take that could reduce the destruction of wildfires. It just hasn’t taken them: CPR Story

Kathleen Gray, a U.S. Forest Service fuels planner, works a controlled burn outside of Frisco, Colorado., on May 2, 2022. Photo by Veronica Penney of CPR news.

Interesting article from Colorado Public Radio on Colorado and Denver metro-area fires, the difficulties of implementing state-wide regulations, how CWPPs aren’t doing the job, and how other states may have better policies. I’d be interested in hearing from folks in other states. There’s quite a bit of interest in the story, and I only include a brief excerpt below.

I also wonder if a lack of coordination among the different government levels (fed, state, country) and zones of influence (sheriff, fire, health) are problems elsewhere, and how they have been successfully dealt with. While building codes are important for structure loss, evacuation plans and testing are an even greater concern for those in relatively crowded forested areas. Does anyone do this (evacuation testing?). I know there are models, but…

Other states are better prepared for wildfire
In November 2021, Lisa McBee moved into her new home in Conifer. McBee, who moved to Colorado from Houston, knew there was some wildfire risk in her new neighborhood, but she did not realize how extreme it was.

McBee did not know her home was at risk for a simple reason: during the sale process, no one told her. In Colorado, Realtors are not required to disclose wildfire risk to properties during the sales process. She says she instead found out through discussions on Nextdoor, a neighborhood messaging app, where she also learned about resources through her local fire department. She later scheduled a FireWise inspection to learn how to make her home more resilient, which recommended she clear out vegetation on the property.

“Nobody wants to cut down 50 trees on their property, but then I also want to save my home,” said McBee.

Still, she said she would have appreciated more information about risk before moving in. “Would I have not moved here?” said McBee. “I don’t know. I mean, I love my house and I love our view and it’s beautiful, but, I don’t know if I would’ve not moved there because of that.”

After she finishes her property, McBee hopes to help her neighbors make their properties safer.

“The house next door, it’s like a thick forest to get to their house,” she said. “When we finish ours, I’d be happy to go over and help them, but you don’t know people’s circumstances — whether they can’t physically do it themselves, they don’t have the time to do it, they can’t afford to do it.”

Other states have also found answers to some of the obstacles to wildfire safety. In California, homeowners selling homes are required to bring their home up to code by making repairs or clearing defensible space prior to the sale. The home’s wildfire risk is also disclosed to the person purchasing the property, meaning a realtor wouldn’t risk losing a sale by telling potential buyers about wildfire risk if other realtors were not disclosing that information. Buyers like McBee in Conifer would always have wildfire risk information before the sale closed.

In Oregon and California, state agencies have mapped wildfire risk in the wildland-urban interfaces where homes and businesses meet forests and grasslands. Both states have also adopted statewide building codes in areas at risk of wildfire, understanding that even one home with flammable roofing or overgrown land in a community could spread flames to other properties.

“California and Oregon have been much more forward-thinking on this, in terms of implementing mandates and regulatory measures, than Colorado has,” said Brenkert-Smith.

In the meantime, volunteers like Latham are still working to get residents prepared.

“We need to do something, you know, we can’t just sit on our hands and wait for it to happen,” said Latham. “But it shouldn’t be that way. It really shouldn’t.”

5 thoughts on “Colorado knows the steps to take that could reduce the destruction of wildfires. It just hasn’t taken them: CPR Story”

  1. Isn’t this that same argument as “My body. My choice.)?

    Until you cannot fly, get medical attention, access to free education unless you get the government mandated prophylaxis? Then whose body is it? Whose property is it?

    There are woodland and open range areas of Oregon that are privately owned and don’t pay property tax assessments to have State Forestry Dept. fire suppression support. Other areas don’t pay it, but have formed fire suppression districts with BLM (Interior Dept) to be first responders and own brush trucks and some water tankers, with all personnel having attended training and best practices and safety classes. Add to that forest protection districts that have a special relationship with the State through State Forestry Dept. Douglas FPA. Coos FPA. Walker Rim FPA, as examples.

    • Coos and Douglas FPA in Oregon work hard to put the fire out when it starts. For this I am thankful and glad to pay taxes to support them.

  2. When the fuels around your neighbor’s house are a mess and the house is less than 100 feet from yours, it is no longer about a personal choice. If the choice of an individual endangers others, it is a public nuisance. Some have no excuses, but others do. Treating fuels and keeping them maintained in the home ignition zone is not cheap and requires routine maintenance. Many people do not understand what is necessary to have defensible space or have the physical and financial means to do the necessary work.

    When we lost our insurance after the Camp Fire caused many companies to abandon CA, we could only get insurance through the state’s FAIR plan ($2000/year for just fire, and we had a fire hydrant in our front yard and the house was within a reasonable distance from a fire station). This was the first time someone came out to our house to check our defensible space. I had done a decent job over the years, so there were only very minor things to that I had intended to do before fire season anyway. Ironically, my two neighbor’s still have their old inexpensive insurance and no one comes out to make sure they are defensible. CalFire in our county does not hand out citations for defensible space violations, which is not how I have heard they work in some of our neighboring counties.

    • A- that’s super interesting to me. You’d think that a state agency (Calfire) would have similar procedures (handing out citations) regardless of county.


Leave a Comment