Fire educators are urging Routt County residents to get defensive
Local homeowners, property owners and agricultural businesses should prepare their properties’ defenses.
Defensive space, home ignition zones and structural ignitability were the key educational messages Thursday evening during the second webinar of the 2021 Routt County Wildfire Conference presented by the nonprofit Routt County Wildfire Mitigation Council.
Presenter Dan Beveridge, wildfire mitigation program specialist with the Colorado State Forest Service, stressed that of the three factors that shape wildfires in the fire behavior triangle — topography, weather and fuel — the only factor that property owners can control is fuel. Those fire fuels include structures, trees, shrubs, pine needles, grasses, timber understory and litter, slash and blowdown.
Beveridge said the home ignition zone, or the area around and on the home that determines ignition potential, includes layers up to 100 feet from a home. Structures can ignite from embers, surface fire or radiant heat.
The first 5 feet surrounding a home are the most important and should not have any flammable materials present, such as stacked firewood, tall grasses, overhanging branches or wood chips. Class A fire-rated roofs and metal siding on the lower perimeter of a house are good techniques to improve “structural ignitability” or “home hardening,” Beveridge said.
“Anything done to harden the home reduces the chance for damage or loss. Every single thing you do really improves the odds,” Beveridge said.
The next zone, 5 to 30 feet from a home, should be free of horizontal or vertical linkages of flammable materials, such as tightly spaced trees and contiguous plantings. Plantings can be in clumps, but those groupings should be 10 feet apart. High grasses should be mowed to 4 inches, he said.
Presenter Todd Hagenbuch, Routt County CSU Extension director and agriculture agent, asked agricultural property owners to consider, “Are you and your property ready for a wildfire?” Hagenbuch said the reality for most farmers and ranchers is, “No, you are not.”
“Having plans and mitigation efforts in place now can help ensure you make it through a wildfire event with less damages. That ultimately saves you time and money in a business where time and money are scarce commodities,” Hagenbuch said.
The extension agent encouraged land owners to contact the local office of the Colorado State Forest Service to request further information on how to lower a property’s wildfire risk. He said fire mitigation planning should be done in coordination with adjacent neighbors.
When preparing for potential wildfires, Hagenbuch asked people to consider, “What would be the worst thing for you to have damaged or lose from a personal perspective, from a business perspective and an ethical perspective?”
He encouraged agricultural operators to consider which outbuilding would be most important to save, what is important or hazardous that is stored in each building, can heavy firefighting trucks safely make it onto the property and turn around, and what equipment is insured. For example, if a $100,000 tractor is insured, focusing on moving the most precious livestock could be more important, Hagenbuch said.
After formal presentations, viewers asked about concerns ranging from, “Should propane tanks be buried?” to “Where do I start at home that is most important to reduce ember ignition?”
Beveridge said buried propane tanks are safer from fire danger. If not buried, propane tanks should be 30 feet away from structures with no flammable materials within 10 feet of the tanks.
Speaking from experience from his years as a wildland firefighter, Beveridge said a home’s roof and deck are the first areas to address with fire wise construction and maintenance as they are large horizontal surfaces where embers can land from a fire a mile away. He warned against storing combustible materials or debris piles under decks. Any place that pine needles could blow into and collect, such as in gutters and roof junctures, should be cleaned out regularly or protected with metal flashing as embers can collect in those same places.
“Embers are the leading cause of home ignition and damage or loss,” he said.
Beveridge stressed that creating a defensive space around a home or structure does not mean clearcutting, and it does mean fire personnel would use the space to defend the home.
“Defensive space should be thought of as a means of minimizing fire behavior so the home can defend itself” and withstand a fire on its own, he said.
This year’s wildfire conference continues with two more webinars, including 5 p.m. Thursday with “HOAs and Small Communities – Case Studies and Best Practices for Mitigation” and May 20 with “Community Lessons Learned – Preparedness and Recovery.” The preregistration link, recordings of each webinar and resources are available at RouttWildfire.org. Helpful resources are available at csfs.colostate.edu/wildfire-mitigation. Residents can email questions to email@example.com.
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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