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Report: 60 Percent of Boulder County Residents at Risk for Wildfires

November 27, 2018

Firefighters from multiple departments work to contain a February 2017 grass fire that spread to nearby structures southeast of Longmont. More than 60 percent of Boulder County residents are at risk of wildfire, according to a new report from the Colorado State Forest Service, with formerly agricultural grasslands now subdivided and developed being especially susceptible.

As the need for housing forces people to the outskirts of urban areas throughout the state, and Boulder County in particular, a new wildfire risk assessment released Monday by the Colorado State Forest Service shows that more than half of the population, or 2.9 million people, is susceptible to wildfires.

In fact, since 2012, when the last report was completed, 50 percent more people live in what is known as the wildland-urban interface — the area where human improvements are built close to, or within, natural terrain and flammable vegetation.

Boulder County’s population has grown by roughly 17,000 people since 2012. With strict development regulations restricting urban density, nearly three-quarters of that growth took place outside of the cities of Boulder and Longmont, leaving 60 percent of the population, or 195,000 people, living in danger of wildfires, according to the report.

“With the continued increase in Colorado’s wildland-urban interface population, it’s critical for landowners and communities to take actions to reduce their risk and address forest health concerns,” Mike Lester, director of the Colorado State Forest Service, wrote in a statement released with the new report.

In particular, the state Forest Service noted that the formerly agricultural grasslands now being subdivided and developed are especially susceptible.

“Most people think of fire hazards as trees and shrubs, but a lot of people don’t think about the grass,” said Kristin Garrison, a fire, fuels and watershed manager for the Colorado State Forest Service. “Fires that we have in grass move very quickly and as people move into these areas all along the Front Range, we need to raise awareness about it.”

With the data compiled for the new report, the state Forest Service updated it’s Colorado Wildfire Risk Assessment Porta l, an interactive map that shows wildfire risk, burn probability, fire intensity, values at risk as well as historical data of past fires.

According to this data, essentially all of central Boulder County, as far west as Ward and as far east as Niwot , is at high risk of wildfires.

While Amanda West, the Colorado State Forest Service’s science information manager, said the map should not be used to determine the risk to individual parcels of land and homes, it does provide a community-level overview alerting those at risk to mitigate the danger before it’s too late.

The best practice is to make sure a home’s exterior is constructed with fire-resistant materials, and to remove any vegetation within 5 feet of the structure, according to Garrison.

“When fires come through, it’s the embers that are out ahead of the flame front that land on the wood decks and shake roofs that ignite a home,” she said. “So you don’t want anything flammable within 5 feet of the home. You even want to have rock around the outside of the home instead of grass.”

Once the house is made as defensible as possible, Garrison said to try and create a 100- to 200-foot barrier around a house by thinning trees and shrubs and to remove ladder fuels that allow the fire to jump from the ground to the tops of trees.

“If homeowners can focus on that home ignition zone work throughout a community,” Garrison said, “that will really help reduce that fire risk.”

John Spina: 303-473-1389, jspina@times-call.com or twitter.com/jsspina24

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