While some fire-affected communities in northern Colorado are rebuilding their homes from scratch, other residents want to make their existing homes more fire-resistant. Some of these improvements are simple and relatively inexpensive.
“Clean out your gutters, rake out the piles of leaves and grass and things like that,” said Brian Oliver, wildfire division chief for the City of Boulder Fire-Rescue. “Just all those little maintenance things. A lot of people don’t realize they’re doing this, you know, to spruce up their house. But it also helps them mitigate fires.
Junipers, which are prevalent in Boulder, also pose a fire hazard.
“They spread fire very easily. They burn very hot. The other big consideration for juniper is that it creates a lot of embers, which then put anything, any structure, anything else downwind at greater risk,” said Oliver. “So getting people to start removing them, reporting them, and educating them about the fire hazards of juniper was a great effort on our part.”
Here are some basic tips on how to make your home more fire safe:
- Cover roof and attic vents with ⅛-inch mesh to keep embers out.
- Keep your garden in good shape! In addition to picking up piles of leaves, prune any branches that hang over the house. Remove dead vegetation under decks and porches.
- Avoid flammable materials, such as wood mulch, within five feet of the house.
- Avoid storing flammable materials, such as fabric patio furniture, under decks. If you must evacuate, bring these items inside.
- Consider removing any flammable vegetation planted near the house.
Following the Marshall Fire, which destroyed more than 1,000 homes in Boulder County last year, the City of Boulder has seen a surge in interest from residents wanting to make their homes safer from fires. Prior to the incident, the home assessment team overseen by Oliver received a few inquiries a week.
“We instantly received, I mean in two weeks, 250 almost 300 requests,” Oliver said. “I just slammed with them.”
But not all residents can easily perform fire safety upgrades in their homes. Variables such as income, age, mobility and language proficiency can impact how vulnerable people prepare for and recover from wildfires, according to Headwaters Economics.
Near where the Marshall Fire started, residents of a mobile home park are still recovering from severe wind damage from the incident. Susan Gibson, the president of the Table Mesa Village Residents Cooperative, said that to her knowledge, residents are not working to make their homes more fire resistant; many are still struggling with repairs to their roofs and siding.
Individual fire departments often lack the staff and resources to help residents complete these updates.
“I think we’re going to have an underserved population that can’t afford the renovations and can’t afford the work,” Oliver said, noting he hopes to hire staff who can raise awareness about these issues. and also put in place funding sources.
Boulder County Wildfire Partners The program offers home appraisals and financial assistance, but this service is currently only available to homeowners in the foothills and mountains. But in November, Boulder County voters can weigh in on some voting measures to fund wildfire mitigation efforts, including the eastward expansion of the Wildfire Partners program.
For more information on how to make a house more fire resistant, see the National Fire Protection Association.