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Durango model home made to elude wildfire

By Dale Rodebaugh Herald staff writer

A statewide fire ban imposed Thursday should ward off a lot of danger. But if a wildfire gets a foothold in Durango Hills off Florida Road, the house of Jim and Connie Rockelmann should stand up to the challenge.

The Rockelmanns, who live in the Florida Pines subdivision, an eight-home enclave on the way to Durango Hills, incorporated features designed to keep wildfire at bay when they built in 1977.

In fact, a sign at the driveway entrance designates the property as a Colorado State Forest Service model home.

“When we built, they (the state agency) proposed it be a model home,” Jim Rockelmann said during a tour of the grounds.

“They took out 30 trees and told us about other defensive measures,” Jim Rockelmann said.

The 3,100-square-foot house today sits among trees, giving a sense of living close to nature, but the surrounding grounds are free of vegetation that could lead flames to the structure.

This is the wildland-urban interface, the place where backyards bump into backcountry. Firefighters are wary because homeowners often have taken no steps to protect their property.

The Rockelmanns, however, adopted a defensive posture, creating adequate open space around the house.

Among the fire-defense measures they’ve taken are:

Fire-resistant metal roof.

Trees close to the house have the lower one-third of their limbs removed.

Oak brush cut to ground level and sprayed with weed killer.

The propane tank has no flammable material nearby.

Oak brush on the canyon that the house faces has been cut and sprayed.

Sections of metal roof are stored under the back deck in case wind-driven burning material should fall there.

Front and side lawns bordering the house would not carry flames.

A fire hydrant – by the luck of the draw – is located in front of the house.

Fireplace wood is stacked away from the house.

A circular asphalt driveway provides ready access for fire trucks.

“We could see smoke and flames during the Missionary Ridge Fire,” Rockelmann said, pointing to the north. “I came home one day at noon to check on the house and saw a crown fire explode – kapooey – in a big mushroom cloud.”

The house didn’t escape unscathed, he said. There was slight smoke damage to the carpet, window shades and bedspreads, Rockelmann said.

daler@durangoherald.com

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