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Southwest Life Health And the West is History Community Travel

Understanding wildfire risk can help us be prepared

Spring is an amazing time in Southwest Colorado. Many of us get excited as the temperatures rise and the snow melts; however, rising temperatures, lower relative humidity and dry fuels can all contribute to an active wildfire season. Wildfire is a serious threat to everyone who lives in this beautiful part of the state, and understanding our wildfire risk can help us be prepared and learn to live safely with wildfire.

Many of our forests have not seen a significant wildfire for over 100 years. That is a lot of time for unchecked growth of potential fuel. Without fire to thin the trees and underbrush, that excessive growth is dense and reaches from the ground to the tree crowns, feeding the huge fires have become the norm across the West.

A lot of our residents here feel safe because their homes are nowhere near the forest. Unfortunately, that may not make a difference.

Eighty-five percent or more of the homes lost to wildfire are never directly touched by the flames, rather, structure loss is caused by the blizzard of embers that blows up to a mile ahead of the fire, starting spot fires outside the area that is burning. All it takes is one ember landing on some kindling and you have a new fire start. Luckily, there are steps you can take to protect your home against wildfire and embers.

Basic steps that make a big difference:

  • Clean the leaves and pine needles off the roof.
  • Clean the eavestroughs.
  • Make sure all attic and soffit vents have 1/8” metal screening.
  • Chimneys need spark arrestors.
  • Repair holes or gaps in the siding.
  • Crawl space vents need 1/8” metal screening.
  • Rake up leaves and needles within 10 feet of the structure.
  • Remove all combustibles on, under or near wooden decks.
  • Install metal screening under the deck to keep duff and critters out.
  • Maintain decks and stairs. Dried-out wood is more flammable than oil stained or painted.
  • Use noncombustible fencing within 5 feet of the house. (If you cannot do that, then clear the combustibles from either side of the fence for its entire length.)
  • Move firewood piles at least 30 feet away from structures.
  • Remove any combustible plants within 10 feet of the house.
  • Within 30 feet of the house, mow grasses to a 6 inch height or less.
  • Ornamental junipers and spruce are highly flammable. Consider removing these plants away from structures.

Wildfire Adapted Partnership is a local nonprofit working to protect lives and property from wildfire in the five counties of Southwest Colorado. To learn more about ways you can protect your home, visit www.wildfireadapted.org. On the website, you can find additional educational resources about living with wildfire, sign up for a free home wildfire risk assessment, and learn more about our mitigation incentive programs like the Chipper Rebate and Defensible Space Cost Share programs.

For other questions, please email info@wildfireadapted.org.

Ashley Downing is executive director of Wildfire Adapted Partnership.