Firefighters want homeowners to better prepare for wildfires | AspenTimes.com
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Firefighters want homeowners to better prepare for wildfires

Jeremy Heiman

The Roaring Fork Valley’s fire officials are working on ordinances that would require homeowners to take certain measures to reduce the danger of wildfire spreading to other homes.

According to local fire officials, fire prevention is especially important to people whose homes are on the edge of woods, brush lands or grasslands, where wildfire can easily spread between buildings. Fire department officials from Basalt, Carbondale, Aspen and Snowmass are working together to adopt a code to govern houses built in these areas.

Basalt Fire Chief Steve Howard told the Pitkin County commissioners Tuesday that the fire departments want one set of rules for every jurisdiction in the valley. He also said the regulations should be simple enough that people building houses aren’t forced to hire consultants to interpret them.

Some of the measures under consideration include removal of trees and brush from the immediate area of a house, having a tank or other source of water available for firefighting and installing metal roofs instead of wood shake.

“We just don’t feel that shake roofs have a place …,” Howard said.

Valley officials have talked with fire departments from Larimer and Boulder counties on Colorado’s Front Range, counties that have already adopted regulations for wildland fire control. They’ve also gotten input from the Colorado State Forest Service.

The legal code firefighters hope local governments will adopt is based on something called “The Urban-Wildland Interface Code.” The code was drafted by the International Fire Code Institute.

Two public meetings will be held in January and February in an effort to garner input on issues surrounding the code, though dates have not been set. Pitkin County has scheduled meetings for adoption of the code in March and April. Howard said problems that must be resolved include deciding who will enforce the new regulations and what bureaucracy will issue permits.

“The big questions was, `Where does this thing reside?'” Howard said. He said the “gut feeling” among those involved was that county and city building departments would be the obvious choice to enforce the regulations, because people must go there to get building permits anyway.

Ron Biggers, a volunteer firefighter for both Basalt and Carbondale, said insurance companies are taking an ever-larger role in making certain houses are protected from wildfires.

“A couple of years ago, insurance companies didn’t think fires were such a big deal – they had floods and hurricanes to worry about,” Biggers said.

But as growth has exploded in rural areas, more and more homes are being built in areas where fire danger is high. Insurance companies have begun to refuse to insure houses where proper fire prevention measures have not been taken, he said.

“I think the insurance industry will start to drive it as time goes on,” Biggers said.


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