DENVER – On the heels of the state’s three largest wildfires on record in 2020, and with several wildfires already occurring in Colorado in 2021, wildland fire professionals have issued dire warnings of what’s to come in the year ahead due to Colorado’s pervasive drought conditions and predictions of above-average temperatures through early summer.
Despite near record-setting March snow seen across much of the state, snowpack remains below average in the mountains across Colorado and the concerns and challenges facing local, state and federal wildland firefighters, as well as millions of Colorado residents, become even greater as the calendar turns to the most challenging months of the year.
With Wildfire Preparedness Day on Saturday, May 1 and Wildfire Awareness Month in May, wildfire, insurance and REALTOR® professionals are encouraging the nearly 3 million Colorado residents living in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) to prepare their homes and communities for wildfire in the weeks and months ahead.
The spring outlook points to “above normal” potential for large wildfires through May and “above normal significant fire potential” is predicted to continue, expanding in June across southern Colorado and into the central part of the state by the second half of the month, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Traditionally, Colorado faces the most wildfires during June and July.
In the wake of last year’s historic wildfires in Colorado, the 2020 legislative session has included a mix of proposed bills receiving bipartisan support. In late March, Gov. Jared Polis signed a pair of wildfire mitigation bills. Senate Bill 21-054 transfers $13 million from the state’s general fund to wildfire mitigation and response programs, and Senate Bill 21-113 transfers $30.8 million in funds to the state’s Firefighting Air Corps Fund for the purchase of a new fire hawk helicopter to suppress wildfires.
“We want to be better prepared to protect the resources that are so important to all of us,” the governor said. In addition, Polis has called on owners of houses built in areas at risk for wildfires to prepare for their potential, taking responsibility to clear “home perimeter” defensible space that could slow a wildfire and help firefighters protect them.
“Every homeowner should be aware of their wildfire risk and the associated responsibility to reduce that risk, not only to protect their property, but also to improve the safety of first responders,” said Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) Wildfire Mitigation Specialist Daniel Beveridge. “There are numerous examples from the past few seasons showing that proactive wildfire mitigation efforts are effective and now is a perfect time for people across the state to take action.”
Although COVID-19 related restrictions will continue to prevent many Colorado residents from conducting group mitigation activities, wildfire officials encourage individual homeowners to take advantage of this early spring season and any extra time at home to engage in a wide range of low-cost mitigation steps proven to protect homes and land and help reduce damage to structures and communities.
From completing home inventories, including photographs and video, to cleaning gutters and rooftops, to trimming backyard shrubs and trees and removing flammable materials from the perimeter of the home, there are a wide range of easy steps that homeowners can complete safely at home. Reviewing insurance policy details and updating coverage are also key steps in the process along with creating and reviewing evacuation plans and emergency toolkits.
“Before your home is in the path of a wildfire is when you need to take steps to help make sure you are insurance ready,” said Rocky Mountain Insurance Association (RMIA) Executive Director Carole Walker. “Using this time at home to create an inventory of personal belongings and checking in with your insurance professional to review coverage are projects we usually procrastinate that will help homeowners be financially prepared for wildfire and natural disasters.”
Based on recommended fire-mitigation activities from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) advises homeowners complete the following activities at home while practicing social distancing.
Top 10 Wildfire Season Preparation Activities:
1. Rake and remove pine needles and dry leaves 5 feet from the home as well as under decks, porches, sheds and play structures.
2. Remove leaves and needles from roofs and gutters.
3. Sweep porches and decks clear of any burnable plant material.
4. Move firewood piles at least 30 feet from the house, preferably uphill.
5. Transfer items under decks or porches to a storage area.
6. Cover any exposed eave or attic vents with 1/8-inch metal mesh screening.
7. Ensure home address signs are clearly visible from the street.
8. Contact the local Office of Emergency Management to register for emergency notifications and encourage your friends, family and neighbors to do the same.
9. Confirm at least one alternate path out of your neighborhood other than the one most commonly used and be prepared for potential evacuation requiring the alternative route.
10. Create an inventory of valuables in your home including written summaries, photography and video. Source: CSFS and NFPA
Wildfire experts and key stakeholder organizations and professionals across the state offer a diverse range of resources and recommendations to help Colorado citizens prepare for and respond to wildfires, including:
* The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), which founded the National Wildfire Preparedness Day in 2014, offers comprehensive research and a wide range of downloadable fact sheets, brochures, checklists and visuals to help residents understand wildfire threats and the steps needed to help protect homes. For more information and access to NFPA tools, visit: https://www.nfpa.org/
* The Rocky Mountain Insurance Association (RMIA) provides a range of wildfire specific downloadable tools, templates and education for homeowners, including home inventory checklists, wildfire prevention tips and evacuation planning tools via its website: http://www.rmiia.org/catastrophes_and_statistics/Wildfire.asp In addition, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) has launched its Home Inventory App for consumers to create and protect a record of their belongings, as well as tips on disaster preparation and more. The App can be accessed from the App Store and Google Play
* The Colorado State Forest Service hosts the Colorado Forest Atlas, a web portal providing a suite of interactive mapping applications about Colorado’s forests and wildfire risk. These applications provide Colorado residents the best available information about their fire risk and forest conditions: https://coloradoforestatlas.org/
The CSFS also offers mitigation resources: https://csfs.colostate.edu/wildfire-mitigation/
* Colorado Association of REALTORS® in cooperation with wildfire and insurance industry experts produced a consumer-focused Colorado Property and Insurance Wildfire Preparedness Guide featuring best practices in wildfire mitigation, defensible space, safety and insurance preparation for property owners, frequently asked questions and direct links to a wide range of local community resources for residents. The guide is available at ColoradoProjectWildfire.com.
Since launching Colorado Project Wildfire in 2015, REALTORS® across the state have joined forces with industry experts to host local wildfire education events for residents, share information and access to resources directly with homeowners.
“Although it’s easy to be distracted by the drastic changes that Coronavirus has brought to our lives over the past year-plus, we can’t take our eyes off of the significant and potentially deadly threat that wildfires bring to our state each year,” said Ulrich Salzgeber, chairman of the Colorado Project Wildfire Taskforce for the Colorado Association of REALTORS®. “With more than 27,500 members living, working and supporting communities throughout our state, we will continue to be proactive in helping educate and support homeowners and residents living in these WUI areas about the steps they can take and the resources available to them to mitigate their properties and be prepared for the growing wildfire risk.”