Commissioners approve wildfire regulations
“Many houses that had defensible space were saved; most of the houses without it burned,” he says. “Defensible space improves the possibilities of saving a house or a structure.”
Eagle County now has a set of wildfire regulations that include measures aiming to protect structures and reduce the risk of fires spreading.
County commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved the regulations, amending county land-use and building regulations. The measures will apply to all new construction and additions to existing structures in unincorporated areas in the county that are close to where high potential for wildland fires exist.
“This is a code that will give us more time for evacuations, and it could also help to prevent houses from burning,” says Gypsum Fire District Chief Dave Vroman.
Firefighters have agreed that proper mitigation provides less fuel to a fire and can pose less risks for them to work.
Last summer, in Eagle County, the Panorama Fire charred 1,600 acres near Basalt. The fire followed the Hayman and Coal Seam fires, which burned thousands of acres and homes near Denver and Glenwood Springs.
“The reality is that sooner or later we could have a fire here,” Wettstein says, “so, preventing is key. You want to increase the protection measures.”
The wildfire regulations, which take effect in 90 days, establish standards for vegetation management. In most cases, that means removing trees and brush close to buildings to prevent a wildfire from moving in too close. Depending upon the level of hazard rating, varying degrees of fire-resistant construction will be required.
“The new regulations will mean additional costs because you’ll need to
remove vegetation, create fire breaks and an install appropriate water systems,” says Bob Narracci, planning division manager with Eagle County.
Hazardous areas are those steeper, heavily vegetated, with limited
access and with little or no water available for firefighting purposes. High hazard areas built in the woods include Eby Creek, north of Eagle,
Bellyache Ridge in Wolcott, Cordillera and portions of Eagle-Vail,
The commissioners also agreed to hire a consultant to complete a fire hazard rating map within one year of adopting the regulations to help rate an area according to its topography, vegetation and water availability.
“There’s no silver bullet that will make a house fireproof,” says Commissioner Tom Stone, “this will be like an insurance.”
Although he approved the regulations, Stone says he was concerned with the vegetation management prevision.
“I think it will be difficult to enforce,” he says. “To see if homes are in compliance, we’d need to inspect them regularly.”
Local fire authorities have agreed to form a partnership with the county and help with the monitoring, Chief Vroman says.
Commissioners also approved an Equal or Better Alternative Plan, a special permit for subdivisions that want to bring the whole development into compliance.
“This is a good idea because you avoid the patchwork effect,” says Carol Mulson, deputy chief with the Eagle River Fire Protection District. “Several subdivisions like Beaver Creek or Bachelor Gulch are interested in doing this as a whole and not for each individual house.”
Stone, however, says in addition to the regulations, there’s a need to address the lack of forest health.
“There is legislation being worked on at a national level to reduce some of the fuels adjacent to communities,” adds Cathy Kahlow, a district ranger with the U.S. Forest Service.
Stone says he’s curious about what the future holds in terms of having similar regulations in the incorporated towns.
“(The Vail Town Council) would have to amend landscape regulations, but it will be safer for everybody,” says Vail Fire Chief John Gulick.
County Commissioner Michael Gallagher has asked county staff to send copies of the regulations to municipalities and fire districts in the county.
“I’m glad these regulations will be in place before the construction season starts,” Gallagher says.
New wildfire prevention regulations
Proposed wildfire mitigation measures include recommendations to:
– Locate building outside of steep slopes, draws and canyons.
– Create defensible space around the perimeter of new developments.
– Use fire rated or non-combustible construction materials.
– Do removal of dead and diseased trees and strategic thinning of
vegetation to help promote overall vegetation health while minimizing
– Provide enough space for vehicle access and turnarounds.
– Maintain firebreaks, turnaround areas and emergency access routes.
Required mitigation measures:
– Additions to existing structures will be required to have defensible space around the existing structure, as well as the new addition. Also, the new addition may be required to be constructed of fire-resistant materials.
– Exterior decks requiring a building permit may be required to be constructed of fire resistant materials.
– When re-roofing or re-siding an existing structure requires a building permit, fire resistive materials maybe required.
Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at