Firewise Coercion vs Cooperation?

“After the great fires in London in 1666 and Chicago in 1871, building codes started addressing the risks one building posed to adjacent buildings and the public,” from a nice summary of building codes history in Mother Earth News.

How many “great fires” will it take before we wise up to the fact that cooperation isn’t sufficient to protect communities from fires that ignite out-of-doors? As was the case with building codes, the insurance industry is taking the lead. But not by constructively developing model Firewise codes (e.g., for vegetation management and home design that resists exterior ignition) and urging state and local governments to adopt them. Instead, the insurance industry is taking a hike, refusing to underwrite homes in potential high-loss areas. In response, state and local governments are either coercing the insurance industry to underwrite or subsidizing insurance for the newly uninsured. Neither tactic addresses the underlying problem.

Unless and until governments adopt enforceable Firewise regulations to protect against catastrophic community loss, we will continue to suffer catastrophic community losses.

12 thoughts on “Firewise Coercion vs Cooperation?”

  1. Andy, as I always say it’s not just about loss of houses.. it’s much better for a wildlife not to run through a community at all, requiring evacuations and so on. This would also require management of PODS and other strategically placed interventions helpful to firefighters. And ignition detection technology and a variety of other things. More of a holistic approach.

    Still I’m not necessarily against requirements- knowing that they may drive up the cost of housing in places that already have trouble with affordable housing.

    It would be interesting to ask TSW WUI residents around the insurance company is not taking “a hike” but contracts with Wildfire Defense Systems.

  2. I tell ya what, I’ve spent many a “learning journeys” attributed to wildfire on most ecosystems west of the Mississippi. It didn’t take two half- million acre fires to convince me to manage the WUI better, but it certainly helped! Utilizing the “restoration prescription” in dry site ponderosa pine and Doug fir works, but folks tend to scream like a 6year old girl at recess when they see the results.

    When I moved to Evergreen CO, it scared the crap out of me looking at the catastrophic potential for wildfire. We saw some really pretty homes, but one way in and out, at the top third of the slope, in overgrown, dense Doug fir, does that to an old forester; couldn’t have given me some of those death traps!

    HOA’s are really good at minding your business, but fire wise and general canopy management for wildfire protection tends to out weigh an HOA’s incessant aggravating. Dang right I logged every Doug fir, juniper, spruce and young pine I could from around our home. Then, raised the canopy base height as far as I could on what was remaining.

    There will be a day coming when some of those homes in the Evergreen and Conifer communities will be toast! It will also be a catastrophe of Maui proportions if something doesn’t change, and time is ticking!

    • Jim, I lived in that area in the mid-70s, when the town of Evergreen ended at the edge of the golf course. When I visited my kids in CO last month and saw how much Evergreen (and every other “small town” along the front range) had grown and how so many of the new homes were built right smack in the middle of a dry forest with NO defensible space around them, I was flabbergasted. It’s a disaster waiting to happen.

      My question to you, though, is how many of your new neighbors did you convince to create defensible space around their homes? Because, as noted above, a wildfire going through all of that dry duff and downed branches, let alone beetle-killed trees, is going to spread house to house. So, even though you were smart enough to clear your space, will it do any good if nobody else in the community does the same thing?

      Or is it time to join the local government and start pressing for mandatory fuels management around those private homes, and instituting new Firewise building codes?

      • Hi Amznwmn, Evergreen has a Rotary program that is very active in the wildfire preparation space. There are people trying hard to do things but there are questions of responsibility.. like mostly volunteer fire departments and so on. If you’re interested you might have a chat with them and write up what their problems are.. and submit it to us here at TSW.

      • We were the only ones actively involved in mitigation in our area of several hundred homes. I believe the number of homes, at the time was around 800 – just in our HOA. There is no way some of that area will ever be safe; spruce and Doug fir on 70% plus slope, tons and tons of downed fuel per acre and poor access. I did “influence” our neighbor to do some work, but they were in a pretty good location due to rock outcrop and mainly old growth ponderosa.

        There are efforts underway in portions of Evergreen/Conifer, but it is most definitely taking the easiest first. The mixed conifer is just going to burn, someday….

  3. Excellent job using a tragedy to push your statist agenda. Interested in seeing your explanation when another wind driven fire tears through a fire wise community, will it then be climate change?

    • Well, after seeing how cause and effects are playing out, the Maui tragedy “started” from the fire department not completely extinguishing a fire earlier in the day! Hmmm, didn’t see that one coming; also, turn off the power and you turn off the warning sirens (they didn’t seem to work anyway), and their pumps are electric, too.

      As for climate change causing this disaster, most of what I have heard is no – just bad timing….

  4. People need to watch this 12 minute PBS video.
    It says that the jitters in the insurance industry could cause a housing crisis like 2008-09.

    And it exposes the problem of mis-allocated fire management budget, which should be focused on the home hardening and the home ignition zone, instead of commercial logging farther away. Maybe the next housing crisis will be blamed on the timber industry and their political allies who are refusing to allow budget priorities to be aligned with scientifically supported solutions.

      • Larry: It’s always seemed to me that the best logging — so long as it was well planned — was commercial logging. Taxes, jobs, wildlife habitat, schools, safety, aesthetics, etc. I’m not sure how you are defining “society,” though. This sounds more like a definition for environmental lawyers and the courts than regular citizens or most taxpayers. Or grazing mammals, wildflowers, butterflies, or songbirds.

        • Only a few people (like Chad Hanson) across America are against commercial thinning projects. I’m sure there are some Americans who buy into the idea that merely selling logs is ‘bad for the environment’, without looking at “the balance of harms”. I would remind people to look at the “Purpose and Need” of each project, to properly analyze the “balance of harms”.


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