Breckenridge beefs up fire rules |

Breckenridge beefs up fire rules

Robert Allen
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. – A controversial defensible-space ordinance aimed at protecting Breckenridge homes and lives from catastrophic wildfire won approval Tuesday from the Town Council.

Town residents are required to have their properties inspected – and any marked trees removed – by July 2012. Appeals may be made, and a two-year extension is available for people with hardships.

Councilman Rob Millisor, who voted for the ordinance, said he’s received more public comments regarding the defensible-space issue than on any other in his five years on the council.

After a full year of public input, research and revisions, the council passed a law that continues to receive criticism for its requirement of homeowners to spend, potentially, thousands of dollars removing trees that are, in some cases, quite healthy.

“If we get a terrific fire, I don’t think there’s anything we can do that will make any difference,” said resident Rick Bly, adding that his residence required about $1,500 in tree removal.

Much criticism has focused on claims the defensible space concerns aren’t grounded in science. But Red, White and Blue Fire Protection District Chief Gary Green at the meeting cited a number of sources supporting the method for preventing destruction.

He said the research of Jack Kohen for the U.S. Forest Service found an 86 to 95 percent survivability for homes with defensible space ranging from 30 to 120 feet around structures.

“It’s as fundamental as the physics of fire,” Green said, adding that more than 30 years of research have been conducted on the issue.

For more information on defensible space and science, visit and click “Resources.”

In California, residents of wildland areas since 2005 have been required to create 100 feet of defensible space. A bill with similar requirements was approved in Nevada on Monday.

In Colorado, Eagle County requires defensible space be created with any sort of property changes – such as different windows and doors or add-ons, said fire district spokeswoman Kim Scott in an e-mail.

Summit County requires defensible space inspections “when appropriate” on new construction and remodels, according to the Summit County Wildfire Protection Plan.

The retroactive impact of the Breckenridge ordinance has frustrated many people who were once required by the town to plant certain landscaping. A recent update to the ordinance allows any landscaping the town required to be left intact.

The defensible space area is defined as a “firebreak within 30 feet around a building or structure and a reduced fuel zone extending up to 75 feet or greater, depending on slope away from the building or structure,” according to the ordinance.

Clear-cutting is not an option for the residential areas; the ordinance was updated with an illustration depicting spacings of 10 feet between trees.

After discussing this year’s budget at a recent retreat, council members decided to remove the waiver on the $45 permit fee for the first year of the ordinance – requiring anyone having trees removed to purchase the permit.

Councilmen Eric Mamula and Dave Rossi voted against the ordinance Tuesday.

Rossi said that while public safety is important, defensible space shouldn’t be mandatory.

“If it was all about public safety, we’d require sprinklers in (all homes),” he said, adding that only homes over 6,000 square feet are required to have fire sprinklers.

Rossi also pointed out that some areas that are even more at risk haven’t enacted such retroactive legislation.

Mayor John Warner said that though it was a tough decision, he hopes the county and other governments follow the town’s lead.

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