VAIL — Wooden roofs and mountain towns go together like snow-covered hills and skiing. But wooden roofs are becoming a hazard as the mountains become more fire-prone.
Vail Fire Chief Mark Miller recently completed a “white paper” about wildfire danger in town, covering topics from evacuations to creating “defensible space” around homes. Included in that paper were questions about how to replace the shake-shingle roofs remaining in town.
Town rules prohibit new wooden-roofed buildings. But, Miller said, there are plenty remaining in town. Some, particularly in the Intermountain neighborhood, are approaching 30 years old. In Vail’s high, semi-arid climate, that means those roofs are little more than kindling that keeps rain out.
Miller wondered if the town might be able to accelerate replacing those roofs in town and suggested that town rules might help people replace those shingles with something more fire-resistant.
“We’d love to have a sunset on shake roofs of, say, seven to 10 years,” Miller said.
To help encourage homeowners to replace their roofs, Miller suggested that the town provide a certain number of hours of mitigation work — in essence, creating fire-resistant space around homes — if people would agree to replace their roofs in that period.
Council member Greg Moffet asked if the town needed to act, given the relatively short life of shake-shingle roofs.
But council member Kerry Donovan said even the offer of town help might not be enough to compel people to take on a project that, in the best case, costs thousands of dollars.
“Having a mandate would be a huge burden,” Donovan said. “It could be something that drives young families out of town. It could come down to a choice between saving for college or a new roof… I don’t know anyone in my neighborhood who could do it.”
Other potential problems include the fact that Vail is surrounded by thousands of acres of public lands with hundreds of thousands of beetle-killed trees. Council member Margaret Rogers said given that fact, requiring even a large amount of clear space around homes might not be enough, and would cost the town countless trees.
Miller’s report had several recommendations, but no concrete steps to take in the future. Mayor Andy Daly said he’d like to see an update in the next 30 to 60 days with concrete steps the town could take to help firefighters in the event of a blaze, and to make evacuation more effective should the surrounding forest catch fire.
While Miller acknowledged there’s only so much planning can accomplish, Rogers said one of the most important elements of a plan is simply letting people know what information and resources are available.