Wildfire experts call the process “strengthening a house” or creating defensive space, which is something homeowners need to do if they want wildland firefighters to try to defend their home in an emergency.
When trying to protect multiple homes, firefighters with limited resources must make tough decisions about classifying a property as defensible or non-defensible, Oak Creek Fire Chief Brady Glauthier said.
With more homes being built in the interface between nature and cities, these defensible or undefensible choices are happening more often in Colorado. This is where homeowners’ previous actions to create defensive space around their home can make a difference when firefighters are in triage mode.
“If you don’t take the time to reinforce your house, with limited resources, we may choose not to leave any resources at your house. You have to give us a fighting chance,” Glauthier said in hopes of getting owners attention.
Firefighters may not defend a home if the driveway is unsafe and overgrown or if a home appears unprepared with fire mitigation efforts.
“All metrics point to another challenging, if not record-breaking wildfire season, and homeowners need to get the job done,” said Fire Chief Chuck Cerasoli of Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue. “People need to step up and help themselves. We are small departments, and when triaging homes, we have to choose how best to spend our time in these emergency situations.
All homeowners, even those living in municipal neighborhoods, should take precautions to protect their homes from the dangers of flying embers, especially after seeing the destruction from recent fires in Boulder and Grand counties, Cerasoli said.
This year, local fire departments and the Colorado State Forest Service are providing more staff, outreach, and focusing on free property and structure fire assessments, especially for homeowner associations or neighborhood groups. SSFR has hired two seasonal wildland firefighters for many duties, including home inspections when available.
These structural inspections for fire danger and mitigation advice are available to property owners upon request, with a preference for training in small groups to reach more people, Cerasoli said. Advice to homeowners could come from initial phone conversations and in-person site visits as staff are available, said Carolina Manriquez, a local forester with the Colorado State Forest Service.
Residents and homeowner associations can request information or inspections from the Routt County Wildfire Mitigation Council via [email protected] or contact their respective fire chiefs.
At the 2022 Routt County Wildfire Mitigation Conference on April 30, landowners were able to begin working on individual or community wildfire preparedness plans. A good resource for checklists and planning is the CSFS Home Ignition Zone, which is available online via CSFS.colostate.edu.
Cerasoli encourages homeowners to look at their home with fresh eyes, to think in terms of flying embers and to imagine what can catch fire. The chief said inspections are focused on reducing fuels within 100 feet of rural homes and within 30 feet of homes in residential neighborhoods.
Homeowners must remove fuel ladders or ties of combustible materials leading to their home. During a recent property inspection, for example, Cerasoli said the owner had a metal roof, but had a shed with flammable wood shingles attached to the house.
The Steamboat Fire Chief’s main irritation is homeowners who leave piles of wood next to their homes during the hot, dry months. He suggests maintaining a woodpile 30 feet from the house in the summer. In winter, homeowners can move smaller portions of firewood closer to their home.
Cerasoli said another item at the top of its fire danger list is having wood chips or mulch next to a house, wood decks, wood patio furniture, cushions flammable patio furniture and propane tanks near a home.
Cerasoli said landowners should do what they can immediately to reduce wildfire risk, then come up with a list to tackle based on time and finances. For example, a house with a metal roof but with dry, aging cedar siding should be added to the to-do list.
“We’re encouraging people to start doing something, to start looking at their home differently, and every move they make is going to make a little difference,” Cerasoli said.
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email [email protected]