New rules aim to spare homes from fires | VailDaily.com
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New rules aim to spare homes from fires

Veronica Whitney

Protecting neighborhoods

Proposed wildfire mitigation measures include:

– Creating defensible space around the perimeter of new developments.



– Creating fire breaks within new developments.

– On-site management of fuels or vegetation, removing dead and diseased trees and strategic thinning of vegetation to help promote overall vegetation health while minimizing the hazard.



– Strategically locating building sites to avoid high or extreme hazard areas.

– Minimum standards for emergency vehicle access and turnaround areas.

– Minimum standards for firefighting water supply: water supply will be provided via fire hydrants in developments served by water distribution systems. In developments not served by water distribution systems, water tanks, cisterns and or dry hydrants will be provided.



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Fire safety checklist

– Thin trees and brush properly within defensible

space.

– Remove trash and debris from defensible space.

– Remove trees growing through a porch or other

portions of a structure.

– Clear leaves and debris from the roof and

gutters of structures.

– Remove branches that overhang a chimney or roof.

– Stack firewood uphill from a home or on a

contour away from the home.

– Use noncombustible roof materials.

– Place shutters, fire curtains or heavy drapes on

windows.

– Place screens on foundation and eave vents.

– Use a chimney screen or spark arrester in

fireplaces.

– Clear vegetation from around fire hydrants,

cisterns, propane tanks, etc.

– Make sure that an outdoor water supply is

available with a hose, nozzle and pump.

– Post address signs that are clearly visible from

the street.

– Make sure that driveways are wide enough for

fire trucks and other equipment.

– Install and test smoke detectors.

– Practice a family fire drill and evacuation

plan.

Source: Colorado State Forest Service

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Expansive forests, diverse vegetation and warm, dry summers provide reasons for people to move to the mountains of Colorado. Soon enough, at least some of them are building homes near the woods, their lifetime dream come true.

Few ever thought the dream could turn into a nightmare in a few hours, said Sue Froeschle, spokeswoman for the White River National Forest.

“Everybody wants to live by public land. But on the other hand, if you’re too close and there’s a fire, there’s abundant fuel source right next to your home,” Froeschle said.

The more than 40 structures lost, including 28 homes, in the Coal Seam Fire near Glenwood Springs last week, along with at least 21 homes burned in the Hayman Fire near Denver, show that structures nestled in grass, brush and trees are easy prey for fire, especially during extremely dry years like this one.

“Areas that are steeper, heavily vegetated with limited access and have little or no water available for firefighting purposes are considered hazardous areas,” said Bob Narracci, Eagle County planning manager.

More than 10,000 homes and 20,000 other structures in the United States have been destroyed by wildland fires since 1970, reports the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

In Eagle County, neighborhoods built in higher fire hazard areas include Eby Creek just north of Eagle, Bellyache Ridge in Wolcott, Cordillera and portions of Eagle-Vail, Narracci said.

The county has been looking in the past months to amend land use regulations to reduce the risk of fire spreading through developments and to protect homes near the wildland better from inevitable wildfires. The proposed regulations would require that all new construction within the wildland-urban interface (built close or within natural terrain and flammable vegetation, where high potential for wildland fires exist) incorporate wildfire mitigation measures designed to reduce the overall wildfire hazard.

The Eagle County commissioners are expected to vote in July on the new set of regulations. The county Planning Commission has recommended approval.

In active fire seasons, Froeschle recommends those who live close to public lands heavy vegetation with different species of pine and brush to take responsibility to try to diminish the risks to their homes.

“We need to dispel the belief that “it can’t happen to me,'” said Eagle County Commissioner Tom Stone, a member of the Forest Advisory Board of Colorado and a proponent of the new regulations.

“There’s no 100 percent guarantee this will save the homes. We hope to make the homes more defensible. It’s an added measure of insurance,” he said.

If the measures are adopted and combined with firewise concepts, Stone said, potential fire hazards could be avoided or controlled in time.

“Also, we need to work with the Forest Service to make land adjacent to the community less prone to catastrophic events,” he added.

The proposed regulations would require that new development and redevelopment establish standards for vegetation management – in most instances it would mean removing trees and brush close to homes to prevent a wildfire from moving in too close. Depending upon the level of hazard rating, varying degrees of fire-resistant construction and sprinkling may also be required for new construction or additions.

Summit County has had defensible fire perimeter building regulations in place since 1993. Residents or developers didn’t immediately embrace them, though.

If passed in Eagle County, the new regulations shouldn’t mean an increase in the cost of building, Narracci said.

“It will serve the opposite direction, because it will make it more difficult to locate new development in extreme fire hazard areas,” he said. “The steeper the slope, the faster the fire will burn. Steep properties also inhibit access to fight a fire.”

When he first heard about the proposed amendments to the regulations, County Commissioner Arn Menconi said he questioned them.

“It didn’t take long to be a proponent,” he said. “Also, the purpose of these regulations is to save lives of firefighters.”

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.


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