Realtors push property wildfire protection plan
Eagle County’s website has a page of advice for homeowners who want to create more fire-resistant property. Advice includes:
• Stack firewood at least 30 feet away from your home.
• Mow your grass regularly.
• Thin a 10-foot space between tree crowns, and remove tree limbs within 10 feet of the ground.
• Remove dead branches that extend over your roof.
For the complete list, and links to other sites, go to the website.
EAGLE COUNTY — In the years-long effort to ease wildfire risks in populated areas, the Vail Board of Realtors has become a recent participant.
The local Realtors’ group is now working with town, county and federal officials to educate property owners about how to defend their homes. The effort comes as a response to the possibility of more stringent regulations coming from state or local governments.
Mike Budd is the governmental affairs person for the local Realtors’ group. Budd said that a 2013 report from a governor’s task force had some potentially troubling recommendations. Among those recommendations was a single way to evaluate property in what government officials call the “wildland/urban interface,” the area where homes and open lands meet.
TALE OF TWO NEIGHBORHOODS
To pick two neighborhoods at random, Forest Road in Vail is in such a zone, as is the perimeter around the Eby Creek Mesa subdivision, just north of Eagle.
While those two neighborhoods are classified the same, the environments are markedly different. Whereas Forest Road is a traditional alpine environment with big evergreen trees, Eby Creek Mesa is in a high desert environment of sagebrush and pinon trees. Creating defensible areas in those two neighborhoods requires similar but different work. A single prescription simply won’t work, Budd said.
STAVING OFF MANDATES
Government regulation could also negatively affect property owners, Budd said.
Vail Board of Realtors CEO Toni Parker said the 2013 report, along with a fire-danger map created by the Vail Fire Department, spurred the local group to action.
“We wanted to look at what we could do to prevent mandates from the state,” Parker said, adding that simply mapping out potentially dangerous areas could affect the value of properties in those areas.
Budd added that some of the mandates recommended in the task force report could do more than affect value; they could require owners to spend a lot of money on their property before they could sell those homes.
A requirement for sellers to replace shake-shingled roofs before a sale could cost thousands, Budd said. Beyond that, if tree-removal was required, big trees can easily cost $2,000 each to cut down and haul off. Another task force proposal recommended that property owners living in those “interface” zones pay a fee into a state emergency fund.
KEEPING HOME INSURANCE RATES DOWN
The Realtors’ group is also working with insurers to find ways to defend property and, perhaps, help keep rates more affordable.
What the local group is advocating for is a system similar to one in place in Boulder County. While new, that system seems to be working well, Parker said.
Instead of defining zones of wildfire danger, the voluntary system would create something like individual certifications. Property owners who did work around their homes and maintained that work would be recognized for that work. A third party would certify it.
Parker said that insurance companies, particularly State Farm and Farmers, are participating in the Boulder County plan, and have lowered rates for home owners participating in the program.
“That’s what we’re after,” Parker said.
Any plan to help cut wildfire risk around homes will also usually involve local fire districts and, probably, county wildfire mitigation specialist Eric Lovgren.
Lovgren, who has been working on mitigation efforts in the area for several years, has spent a lot of time with local fire departments, the U.S. Forest Service and the federal Bureau of Land Management. There’s been a lot of work done on public lands around the wildland/urban interface, Lovgren said, adding that the Vail Fire Department and the Eagle River Fire Protection District have seasonal wildfire mitigation crews that work mostly on public land.
“Now we’re taking the fight to back yards and homes,” Lovgren said.
What Lovgren called “battlefield preparation” is going to be crucial if any part of the county is hit by a wildfire. At a Monday work session with the Eagle County commissioners, Lovgren noted that the fire departments in the valley have 18 trucks between them. Of those, most require ready access to fire hydrants. Other trucks that carry water carry a limited supply.
“We’re trying to do a lot with a little,” Lovgren said.
That’s why the work doesn’t stop.
Lovgren said that with both public and private property, trimming trees or clearing brush has to become fairly regular work.
That’s why a certification for a homeowner wouldn’t be permanent.
Dick Kesler, a local Realtor who specializes in rural property, said people now are learning what ranchers have known for generations — it takes work and awareness to keep property safe from fire.
“Nothing’s ever new,” Kesler said. “We’re just learning it again.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org or @scottnmiller.
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