New fire-safety regulations in store
County commissioners are considering changing land-use regulations to incorporate wildfire mitigation measures that would reduce the risk of fires spreading, as well as protecting structures.
The measures, already recommended for approval by the county’s Planning Commission, would apply to all new construction in unincorporated areas in the county that are close to where high potential for wildland fires exist.
“Proper mitigation provides less fuel to a fire; it is a defensible measure,” says Dave Vroman, chief of Gypsum Fire Protection District. “In case of a fire, these measures give people more time to leave their homes and for us to get there.”
More than 10,000 homes and 20,000 other structures in the United States have been destroyed by wildland fires since 1970, according to a report by the USDA, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
County Commissioner Tom Stone says if the proposed measures are adopted and combined with the other fire safety concepts, potential hazards could be avoided.
“We can educate people all we want, but we need something to enforce to make people aware of the possible hazards,” says Stone, a member of the Forest Advisory Board of Colorado.
Areas that are steeper, heavily vegetated, with limited access and with little or no water available for firefighting purposes are considered hazardous areas, adds Bob Narracci, Eagle County planning manager.
The commissioners are also concerned about the need for a map rating hazardous areas in the county.
“It would be difficult to implement the regulations if we don’t have the zones set up,” Stone says.
Until there’s a map, Narracci adds, the Colorado State Forest Service could assist the county in determining the hazardous areas.
In Eagle County, highly hazardous areas built into the woods include Eby Creek north of Eagle, Bellyache Ridge south of Wolcott, Cordillera south of Edwards, and portions of Eagle-Vail, Narracci says.
“There’s a lot of criteria that goes into determining a hazardous area,” says Cliff Simonton, a planner with Eagle County. “The vegetation surrounding it, if it’s close to a fire station, and if it has a domestic water supply.”
The proposed regulations would require new developments and redevelopments to establish standards for vegetation management. In most cases, that would mean removing trees and brush close to dwellings, to prevent a wildfire from moving in too close. Depending upon the level of hazard rating, varying degrees of fire-resistant construction and sprinklers would also be required.
Stone says he would like to consider the financial impact of the proposed regulations.
“The new regulations will mean additional cost because you’ll need to remove vegetation, create fire breaks and an appropriate water system,” Narracci adds.
Scot Hunn, director of the Design Review Administration for Beaver Creek, says he’s concerned the regulations would change the character of communities.
“We’re not reacting to this summer fires; we’re not rushing to adopt this; we’ve been working on these regulations for a few years,” Stone replies.
The commissioners, who are expected to vote on the regulations by the end of the month, have asked for more information before they vote.
“It is time we don’t risk our lives to defend the indefensible,” says John Benson, deputy chief of the Greater Eagle Fire Department.
Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.