Every May in Colorado is Wildfire Awareness Month. However, this year, the month of May kicked off with a new public outreach campaign entitled, “Live Wildfire Ready”. This campaign is directed and funded by the State of Colorado through Senate Bill 22-007. It was developed by the Colorado State Forest Service, Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control and USDA Forest Service and Colorado State Fire Chiefs. Additional information about this campaign can be found at: https://csfs.colostate.edu/2023/04/25/new-campaign-encourages-coloradans-to-prepare-for-wildfire
Colorado residents have dealt with wildfire for years. Since the 1950s, we have been attuned to Smokey the Bear’s message, “Only YOU can prevent forest fires”. Many fires are indeed human-caused, but lightning strikes are a major culprit, too. Wildfire is fresh in our minds, especially when driving through Louisville and Superior. Witnessing the massive recovery operation currently underway there, we realize the extent of the destruction caused by the Marshall Fire.
Wildfire tends to be a summer peril. Nevertheless, as evidenced by the Marshall Fire, our winters have been no stranger to wildfire. When there’s no snow on the ground and conditions are dry, the wildfire danger can be just as high as it would be now in the spring or summer. While the forests and grasslands of Boulder County are incredibly beautiful places to live, they are also the locations with the greatest menace of wildfire.
I experienced this firsthand this year when my family received word that the fire in Silverthorne four years ago was threatening our property there. Since we live in Boulder, there was no way to drive to our property with the evacuation orders already in place. I considered the possessions I would snatch from the home had I had time. I realized that the only item I would take with me that was irreplaceable, besides all of the incredible memories, was our dinner table. What’s so special about it? Our dinner table is made out of pine and our many guests over the past 25 years have carved their name and something that describes them into the table. The true value of the table is probably 50 bucks. The sentimental value: priceless. Everyone needs to have a plan to bring with them what they value. You might only have a few minutes to make that decision.
As a REALTOR® I have known several clients and friends who have lost their homes to wildfire, even before the Marshall Fire. Now, after the Marshall fire, pretty much everyone in the county knows someone whose lives were affected by wildfire. Since fire is a threat to so many of us in Boulder County, we need to be ready if the time comes. Everyone needs to have a plan to take what is important with them — and they may only have a few minutes to make that decision.
There are a variety of resources to help you be prepared for a wildfire emergency. Here in Boulder County, we have WildFirePartners, a Boulder County program at wildfirepartners.org. Wildfire Partners will issue a certificate indicating that you have completed their suggested checklist of preventative measures to mitigate the risk of wildfire. The following is a list of quick tips to have your bases covered in case of a wildfire emergency.
Most of us have to admit that we haven’t completely read our hazard insurance policies. However, if you live in a fire hazard area, it is even more important to know exactly what to expect from your coverage. After the Marshall Fire, many homeowners found they were significantly underinsured. You need to investigate what the insurance company will do towards the replacement of your home or other options. Just as important is what they will do to help, such as costs and length of time for temporary housing, while you’re rebuilding.
A written and photographic/video inventory of your personal property is critical to have. Be sure to save it off-site or online.
An annual review with your insurance agent is a must! Some insurance companies will come up from time to time to inspect your home and its surroundings. Defensible space is one of the first things they will check.
First of all, remove fuel (anything that can burn!) from near your house. Learn about the three fire zones Firewise says are around your house. The Immediate Zone is the first five feet from the foundation. In that zone, you don’t want anything flammable. The Intermediate Zone is next, which is the section 5 to 30 feet from the home. This area should have fire breaks like lawns and driveways. Tree canopies should not come within 10 feet of the house and the trees should be at least 18 feet apart. The Extended Zone is next. Trees from 30 to 60 feet out from the house should have spacing at least 12 apart. Spaces between trees should be greater if they are on a steep slope.
Install a fire-retardant roof
Many of the older homes in the mountains west of Boulder were originally built with shake roofs. There should not be too many of those left now! But if you don’t have a fire-retardant roof, it should be a priority to get one installed as soon as possible.
Be prepared to leave
The odds are high that when the notice to evacuate your home comes, there won’t be much time. Residents in high-risk areas should have a plan. That plan should include a list of what possessions to take on a priority basis. If you only have five minutes, you may only be able to take the items at the top of the list. Most people say that one of the things they would grab quickly are the family pictures. In our digital world, it is easy to upload sacred family pictures to the cloud. Even old family photographs can be scanned and uploaded.
Important documents might not survive. A better alternative would be to store them in a safe deposit box on the cloud in an online storage site like Dropbox.
The plan should include a Primary Escape Route and a Back-up Escape Route. If family members are at different locations at the time of the emergency, you should have an agreed-upon meeting place.
The real estate market and fire
It’s important to be aware of the long-term implications on the real estate market when there is a fire. When smoke is in the air, it is difficult for buyers to think of buying a home in the area. Closings don’t happen because insurance quickly becomes unavailable. The real estate market comes to a rapid stop in an area directly affected by the fire. An area with masses of trees can take years to look normal again and the market takes a long time to recover. Yet, areas where there have been grassy fires can come back greener and prettier in just one growing season and the next summer you may not be able to tell there was even a fire.
If you would like additional help to be prepared in the event of a wildfire, you may want to order the book, “Surviving Wildfire” by Linda Masterson. It is local and relevant. Linda and her husband lost their home to a wildfire west of Fort Collins in 2011. Dave Zader, a fire manager, calls it “full of information that could save homes…and lives.”
By Duane Duggan. Duane has been a Realtor since 1982. Living the life of a Realtor and being immersed in real estate led to the inception of his book, Realtor for Life. For questions, e-mail DuaneDuggan@boulderco.com, call 303.441.5611 or visit BoulderPropertyNetwork.com.