Nowhere in Routt County is 100% safe from wildfire, new map shows |

Nowhere in Routt County is 100% safe from wildfire, new map shows

State Forest Service to release wildfire risk maps for 28-acre sections

The Colorado State Forest Service now has Lidar remote sensing technology available to specifically assess wildfire risk for building loss in 28-acre sections in Routt County. Online access to those maps will be released to the public later this month.
Colorado State Forest Service/Courtesy graphic

When wildfire mitigation specialist Chad Julian drove into town last week to speak at the Routt County Wildfire Mitigation Conference, he noticed at the side of U.S. Highway 40 an image reminiscent of the start of the devastating Marshall Fire in Boulder County.

On the south end of Steamboat Springs, Julian saw tall grasses growing next to old cedar wood fencing, and his mind flashed back to Dec. 30, 2021, when he watched the first three homes ignite in the wind-driven Marshall Fire. That fire swept through Louisville, Superior and unincorporated Boulder County, destroying 1,084 homes and seven commercial structures and damaging 179 homes and businesses, according to Boulder County officials.

That same type of fire could happen in Routt County, Julian said, especially in areas of high, dry grasses such as near Stagecoach, Hayden and west of Steamboat. Wildfire experts during the mitigation conference stressed that no areas in Routt County, even the downtown Steamboat core, are immune from the threat of wildfire embers catching buildings on fire.

Julian, who works for the Colorado State Forest Service, discussed an important slide from his conference presentation showing the risk assessment building loss factor in 28-acre hexagon parcels across Routt County. The dark red hexagons indicate the highest danger for building loss. The map showed many dark red areas at greater risk, for example, in the Tree Haus subdivision, near Fish Creek Falls, northwest of the Steamboat Resort base, Willow Creek neighborhood, and between Steamboat Lake and Pearl Lake.

The building loss factor maps were updated to finer resolution in fall 2022 through the use of Lidar, or Light Detection and Ranging, remote sensing technology.

“Now that the CSFS has updated their modeling, we can clearly see that nowhere is 100% safe, even downtown Steamboat where people seem to feel more insulated than some of the more remote areas of the county,” said Josh Hankes, executive director of the Routt County Wildfire Mitigation Council.

The mapping layers of the wildfire risk assessment, produced through contractor Technosylva, include building loss factor, defensible space, ingress and egress, and wildland urban interface.

Steamboat Springs Fire Chief Chuck Cerasoli, standing, answers a question for one of the breakout groups during the April 29 public session of the 2023 Routt County Wildfire Mitigation Conference.
Suzie Romig/Steamboat Pilot & Today

“This type of product looks at neighborhoods and communities more effectively to see the type of things that are negative from a fire perspective,” Julian said. “It has better resolution for structures and communities to be more strategic in those areas.”

Julian also presented enlightening spotting layer graphs that showed how much more destructive wildfire ember showers could be across the Steamboat area at 50 mph wind speeds versus 20 mph winds. The higher winds could disperse embers 1.5 miles.

Every speaker at the wildfire conference emphasized that preventing wildfire damage to homes and businesses is a community-wide concern that should involve everyone’s help and not be limited to fire agencies. Home and property owners were urged to make their buildings more fire resistant as if a fire truck would never show up to their home during an ember shower, which might be the case during a large wildfire.

Area wildfire mitigation resources

The Colorado State Forest Service added four Wildfire Resilience Coordinator staff this spring including Chazz Larkin, who covers the northwest region of the state. The coordinator aims to provide broad wildfire risk reduction program services in coordination with the state forestry staff and to cultivate opportunities with community partners and stakeholders. For information:

Other wildlife resilience resources are available through local fire districts and the Routt County Wildfire Mitigation Council at or email Property owners and homeowner associations can request an on-site Home Ignition Zone risk assessment through local fire districts or the mitigation council.

Wildfire mitigation experts encourage all landowners to review the Home Ignition Zone checklists available on the State Forest Service website, Implementing these practical steps increase the likelihood that a home survives a wildfire by addressing the home itself and the area around it. This will minimize the probability of a home igniting during a wildfire by reducing or eliminating nearby fuels.

“The top priority is zero to 5 feet out. No vegetation within 5 feet of a building is the best thing to do,” Julian said.

The second priority is fire-resistant construction materials on roofs and decks, Julian said. Surface fires can travel to the base of a house or embers can easily ignite near or on a building.

The state forest service and Colorado State University Extension are completing pamphlets on Low Flammable Landscape Plants and on Fire Resistant Landscaping that will be released soon on their websites. Julian said many homeowners do not realize that conifer trees, especially more flammable Ponderosa pine, Douglas fir and blue spruce, tend to contain flammable resins and oils. Conifers are better placed 30 feet from homes, but if conifers remain near homes, removing limbs about 6 to 10 feet from the ground and using gravel under the tree will help reduce the spread of surface fire.

Julian said when structures have more than 50% surrounding canopy, especially in conifers, “it’s pretty directly correlated to home loss.”

Routt County officials said the updated Community Wildfire Protection Plan, including a proposed fuel treatments map, is now 75% complete with a final draft expected in mid-May. Public review meetings are planned with the final product ready at the end of August. The plan will help fire chiefs and agencies prioritize a list of projects and measures.

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