Mandatory Wildfire Mitigation for Colorado…is it Necessary?

Wildfire season is upon us! Depending on your location, the concept of wildfire may be the furthest thing from your mind for the summer. Unfortunately, Colorado has hit a high-risk status due to drought, early snow melt, and numerous other factors, which had been brought up at the DRCOG (Denver Regional Council of Governments) Wildfire Mitigation meeting earlier this month.

Wildfire

Wildfire (Photo credit: agrilifetoday)

During the Q&A session, a firefighter with 30 + years under his belt asked why Colorado does not have mandatory wildfire mitigation like Oakland, California or Ruidoso, New Mexico. In this case, the mandatory wildfire mitigation takes the form of extra expenses placed on the homeowners to reduce fuel hazards in and around their property. For instance, in Larimer City, CO it is mandatory for new houses to be built with fire-resistant materials and the citizens are also to abide by mandatory fires-resistant landscaping and vegetation removal. This arrangement differs slightly for places like Oakland, California where it is mandatory for new and existing homes to be properly prepared with fire-resistant landscaping and materials. The Oakland wildfire policy also requires an annual fire department inspection of the landscape to determine whether it is fire-resistant.

The statistics to whether or not mandatory wildfire policy is effective in preventing large-scale fires have been unclear. That is not to say the policies don’t work as in 2003 the Ruidoso WUIG (Wildland Urban Interface Group) had managed to secure a buffer zone of 6,027 acres with a long-term plan of transitioning the surrounding 13,000 acres up to par with first safety standards. This coupled with strict fire restrictions, has created a stable environment for the second most vulnerable community for risk of wildfire. However, even with all the precautions taken, Ruidoso, NM still remains at risk as three fires were started by lightning around the community in 2011.

What about California? Oakland may have an effective mandatory policy but the rest of California is still in the danger zone. For example, in 2008 1.4 million acres were destroyed by wildfires and the cost of fighting those fires was fully estimated at almost 2 billion dollars. The extent of the damage and the investment in fighting the wildfires far outweigh the price of preparing for wildfire disaster.

So then since Colorado is being considered a hotspot of wildfire activity for the summer of 2012, should the state begin forcing wildfire policy on high risk communities?

http://www.ncsu.edu/project/wildfire/pdfs/ruidoso_casestudy.pdf

http://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/pubs/gtr/gtr-nrs-p-84papers/10vogt-p-84.pdf

http://magazine.humboldt.edu/spring09/fire-on-the-mountain/

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