Strict fire rules challenged in Breckenridge
Breckenridge, CO Colorado
BRECKENRIDGE, Colorado – Breckenridge residents are petitioning to overturn a controversial new town ordinance that mandates creation of firebreaks around homes.
“It is unconscionable that the town council would ignore the overwhelming negative public opinion and misapply the science to approve this ordinance,” petitioner Eric Buck said in a press release.
The Petitioners Committee aims to repeal rules that include creation of 30-foot firebreaks by July 2012 at homeowners’ expense. Residents have written letters and spoken in town meetings opposing the legislation, which can cost folks in wooded areas $1,200 or more.
The group seeks about 330 signatures – or 10 percent the number of registered voters in the November 2008 election – by July 9.
A sufficient number of signatures would require town council to reconsider the ordinance. If the legislation is not repealed, the voters would decide its fate through November’s election ballot.
Representatives of the Red, White and Blue Fire District say that after inspecting more than 200 residences, an average of 20 trees per home have been marked for removal.
Costs of removal varies depending on tree size and location, among other factors. Though fire district representatives said the cost per tree ranges from $40 to $60, residents report paying as much as $260 per tree.
Buck said in a phone interview there’s “not really any positive impact” with the ordinance.
“If I cut trees, that’s not going to stop fires from spreading,” Buck said. “The premise here is that pine-beetle kill has made fire more likely and increased the risk.”
The group’s documents state that live trees are “more combustible and burn at a higher temperature due to the volatile pine sap.”
Matt Benedict, with the fire district, said the green trees will burn with more heat because of the sap and “more meat in the needles,” but that beetle kill isn’t the primary emphasis for defensible space.
“The pine beetle brought it to (public) attention, but from our point of view this has always been a defensible space and a forest health issue – not a pine-beetle issue,” he said. “The science behind this shows that defensible space works.”
More information on defensible space research is available at http://www.firewise.org.
Benedict said the beetle-kill trees increase the danger of wildfire because, though they don’t burn as hot, they are more readily ignited.
In a healthy forest, it takes a 20 mph wind to carry fire from the ground to trees’ crowns. In a beetle-kill forest, a 5-10 mph wind can carry fire to the crowns.
“A stand of contiguous red trees is absolutely an issue,” he said.
The Petitioners Committee’s other concerns include the flexibility of the ordinance language, the fact that healthy vegetation may be removed and the lack of an objective citizen on the appeals board, according to the group’s documents.
Residents can appeal their inspections and have a two-year extension to the July 2012 requirement for hardships.
After a full year of public input, research and revisions, the council passed the ordinance last week through a 5-2 vote.
Councilman Dave Rossi voted against it. He said he’ll need to talk with the group aiming to overturn it before deciding whether he’ll sign their petition.
“I still do not support the ordinance. I still think it’s fraught with a lot of problematic language,” Rossi said.
He said that unintended consequences he had predicted are already beginning to surface – for example, the Wellington neighborhood, which includes small lots surrounded by streets and alleys is subject to inspection.
“It just strikes me as a waste of staff time and taxpayer resources,” he said.
Benedict said that while every property is subject to the ordinance, a neighborhoods such as Wellington with landscaping that’s town-approved or irrigated won’t be subjected to cutting or permit fees.
Mayor John Warner, a town resident since 1980, said he can’t recall the town ever overturning an ordinance.
He said he continues to support defensible space for the safety of the community.
“The bottom line is: I think we did a pretty good job putting this ordinance together,” he said.
Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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