Community Agriculture Alliance: Wildfire prevention and you
It seems as though it’s been a long, cool spring, and there is still plenty of snow up high waiting to melt. The fields are bright green with new grass, and the glacier lilies are in full bloom in the forest. The risk of wildfire to your home and your community is not uppermost in your thoughts, but this just might be the best time to make sure your home is prepared to survive a wildfire. The following information may help you toward that goal.
There are two factors that have emerged as the primary determinants of a home’s ability to survive a wildfire — the quality of the defensible space and the structure’s ignitability.
The best time to address home ignitability is in the design phase, but there are many things you can do to reduce ignitability in an existing home. The roof is a key component of your house’s defense, primarily because there is so much of it. Most building codes require fire-resistant roofing materials, but it is important to remember to clean gutters and valleys of accumulated needles and leaves.
Decks are another key component of home ignition, both as receptors for burning embers and as heat traps. Airborne embers have caused the loss of many homes, even when the area surrounding the home was not conducive to fire spread. Don’t store combustible materials beneath your deck or let grasses and other vegetation encroach upon it. Check out the “Firewise Construction: Site Design and Building Materials” publication at csfs.colostate.edu for more information on fire-resistant building designs and materials.
Defensible space is the other critical factor in determining your home’s ability to survive a wildfire. Defensible space can be defined as the area surrounding a house that has been modified to reduce fire hazard.
Creating defensible space involves clearing or reducing natural and man-made fuels near a house or structure, generally utilizing a series of management zones in which different treatments may be used. The area closest to the house is most important and requires the maximum hazard reduction. The actual design and development of your defensible space depends on the size and shape of your buildings, the slope of the ground, construction materials, surrounding topography and the size and type of vegetation on your property.
Creating a proper defensible space does not guarantee your home will survive a wildfire, but it does significantly improve the odds. For more detailed information on defensible space, review “Protecting Your Home from Wildfire: Creating Wildfire-Defensible Zones” at csfs.colostate.edu.
Additional assistance in assessing the risk to your property from wildfire and implementing defensible space is available from your local fire department and from the Colorado State Forest Service.
Just a couple more things to keep in mind: Defensible space requires regular, ongoing maintenance to be effective. While it has been several years since we’ve had a significant fire year in Colorado, even an average fire year has more than 3,000 wildfires. This spring may have shortened our fire season, but it did not eliminate it. Routt County has a county-wide Community Wildfire Protection Plan that has information specific to where you live in the county. Check it out at co.routt.co.us/documentcenter/view/2242.
For more information, contact your local fire department or district or the Steamboat Springs District Office of the Colorado State Forest Service at 970-879-0475.
John Twitchell is district forester for Colorado State Forest Service Steamboat Springs District.
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