Two weeks ago, the Green Meadows fire near Placerville swept across more than 60 acres, forcing over a dozen households to evacuate overnight for safety. Ultimately, no injuries were sustained and property damage was minimal, thanks to the rapid response and efforts of the Telluride Fire Protection District and its regional partners, but Chief John Bennett touted the benefits of the home fire mitigation work done on homes in the blaze’s vicinity.
“When a property is pre-treated, it reduces opportunity for a fire to become a catastrophic event with regards to life, property, and our first responders,” he said in a press release, pointing to an estimated $2.3 million saved in property value in the Green Meadows fire alone.
According to the press release, one homeowner in the area, Dennis Wrestler, had utilized the West Region Wildfire Council’s cost-share program two years ago to have fire mitigation work performed on his home and property, and remained convinced that “that the removal of significant fuel sources contributed significantly in limiting damage to the land and saving my house during that fast-moving fire.”
“For every dollar spent on mitigation pre-fire, it saves about $8 on fire extinguishment expenses,” along with economic impact and recovery, said Bennett. “It’s easier and far more efficient than trying to do that on the fly with fire around us.”
Fire mitigation is especially critical for properties constructed in woodland landscapes, where plenty of fuel surrounding the property can lead to heightened risk of home damage or loss.
“When you build in a wildland-urban interface — that is, the forest or a heavily vegetated area — you need to be mindful not only of the exterior of the home and the vegetation that surrounds it, but also the construction style and materials that you utilize,” he said. “And be thinking not only of the aesthetic. ‘Hey, it’s not on fire and it looks really pretty today, but what's the resilience of this property under stress?’”
Fire mitigation work consists of both “home hardening” and creating “defensible space” around the home. In home hardening, homeowners may retrofit their property with “ignition-resistant features,” such as replacing or modifying roofs, windows, decks, siding and fencing with non-combustible or heat-resistant materials. Defensible space refers to the area immediately around the home, cleared of leaf litter, dense foliage and other highly flammable materials for reduced fire hazard.
The West Region Wildfire Council, a nonprofit covering San Miguel, Ouray, Montrose, Hinsdale, Delta and Gunnison counties, offers a free home visit as well as a cost-sharing program to provide technical assistance and financial incentive for homeowners to pursue fire mitigation projects on their properties.
“Our main programs are focused on working with residents and communities to identify and assess wildfire risk and implement plans to implement mitigation projects, whether on the community or individual basis,” said Executive Director Jamie Gomez. For the free home visit, he explained, a trained fire mitigation specialist will visit the property and spend up to an hour assessing and discussing the home’s “structural vulnerabilities to ignition” and advising the homeowner on steps to reduce risk. With the cost-sharing program, the homeowner may be eligible for up to 75 percent project cost reimbursement, depending on the project.
The area’s most recent evidence of the efficacy of fire mitigation efforts, Gomez noted, was Wrestler’s home near Placerville.
“The defensible space project was essentially tested in the Green Meadows fire,” he said. “The work completed at his residence, such as the tree thinning and brush removal, played a significant role in the ability for the firefighters to help protect his home. It really did act as intended to reduce the fire’s behavior and intensity on his property, contributing to his home surviving the wildfire.”
“The big message is that mitigation should be a high priority if you’re in that wildland-urban interface, and we’ve got great resources,” concluded Bennett. “Take advantage of it.”