A recent article on the Community Radio for Northern Colorado website (KUNC) had some thought-provoking comments on the lack of a state-wide policy to deal with development trends in Colorado. The panel of experts that were interviewed for this article all made some very interesting comments and observations. An economist – Ray Rasker from Headwaters Economics -- made two interesting assertions: (1) "Everybody seems to have drunk the Kool-Aid on Firewise" and (2) "Keep building in dangerous places, just have a metal roof."
In the first instance, I wish "everybody" was paying more attention to what the Firewise Communities/USA® recognition program has to offer. It was designed to address the already-existing problem of communities at risk to wildfire more than a decade ago. According to the Federal Registry, there are 77,000 communities (home to ~46 million people) that are considered communities at risk in the wildland-urban interface. Unfortunately, although Firewise/Communities USA is a very successful community action program, only 760 communities out of the 77,000 are recognized sites. Since the program’s inception in 2001, more than 1.2 million people have been reached through this grassroots community action effort.
With regards to the second assertion, it is obvious that Mr. Rasker does not have a clear understanding about the Firewise Communities/USA message. This successful outreach program is specifically designed to address the societal problem discussed in the KUNC article. Its scope is much more than simply adding a metal roof to one’s house. It is a social model that not only educates homeowners and neighborhoods about their wildfire risk, but more importantly provides a method for how they can take action to mitigate this risk. It is based on the same fire science that informs wildfire safety codes and standards.
The Firewise Communities/USA recognition program is purely voluntary and uses the power of community to drive the wildfire risk reduction process, thereby minimizing the cost or burden on the taxpayer. The program is all about community action. Contrary to Mr. Rasker’s assertion, Firewise Communities/USA is not an incentive program for developers to keep on building in the ‘red-zone’ or high wildfire risk areas. The decision to develop in ‘red-zone’ areas is a political one -- not a Firewise one.
Firewise principles include:
- When it comes to wildfire risk, it is not a geographical location, but a set of conditions that determine the home’s ignition potential in any community.
- Homeowners can and must take primary responsibility for wildfire safety action around the home.
- A home’s ignition risk is determined by its immediate surroundings or its “home ignition zone” and the home’s construction materials.
- We all have a role to play in protecting ourselves and others.
For further information on how local and state agencies can address wildfire risk, please visit the Fire Adapted Communities website. For further information on current research related to the regulatory component of this problem, please read this research paper that was produced by the Fire Protection Research Foundation.
Map image from ESRI Map Book - Colorado State Forest Service map and data