FORT COLLINS, Colo. – Living with wildfire is a year-round reality for Coloradans. With an increasingly hot and dry climate and half of Colorado residents now living in close proximity to wildlands, we need to prepare our homes and communities to live with wildfire.
The Colorado State Forest Service, Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, U.S. Forest Service and other agencies prioritize mitigation, response and management at a statewide level. At the same time, Coloradans need to take action to protect their homes and properties from wildfire.
May is Wildfire Awareness Month, bolstered this year with the launch of a new campaign to encourage Colorado residents to take steps to reduce their risk from wildfire.
Live Wildfire Ready is a campaign to spread awareness – but it’s also a mindset. When we address the realities of living in close connection to wildfire, we are empowered to prepare and protect our homes, families and communities.
Wildfire Is an Expectation
Wildfires are a natural part of Colorado’s ecosystems and play a critical role in restoring and maintaining healthy forests.
There are many interconnected factors to consider when discussing wildfire. All vegetation types that interact with wildfire have a fire regime, or the pattern of fire occurrence within a particular forest type. Fire frequency is how often a fire returns to a particular forest patch. Fire severity is the ecological impact that a fire has on a given landscape.
But Colorado’s climate is changing, like that of the rest of the planet. Warming temperatures reduce snowpack and runoff levels, alter seasons and lead to droughts, insects and diseases – all of which influence forest conditions. These factors shape fire behavior, severity and frequency, meaning Coloradans need to be prepared for a year-round wildfire season. Remember that wildfires aren’t isolated to forests, as shown by the devastation of Boulder County homes during the Marshall Fire in late December of 2021.
Forest management agencies like the Colorado State Forest Service engage in wildfire mitigation actions, which are on-the-ground treatments to reduce the risk of wildfire causing damage to people, property and infrastructure. Wildfire mitigation actions can also promote healthy forests and restoration projects, supporting a better future at numerous levels.
Live Wildfire Ready is a campaign to spread awareness – but it’s also a mindset.
Know Your Wildfire Risk
Preparing your home for wildfire starts by understanding your risk.
Half of all Coloradans live in the wildland-urban interface (WUI), which is any area where human-made improvements are built close to, or within, flammable vegetation. As communities are expanded and new developments are made on land typically impacted by wildfire, these areas are increasingly at risk.
If your home is located in or near the natural vegetation of Colorado’s grasslands, shrublands, foothills or mountains, you live in the WUI.
Start understanding your risk by looking at your surroundings. Do you see grasses, shrubs and trees that could provide fuel for wildfires on or near your property? If so, take action to reduce your risk and prepare your home and property for wildfire.
The Home Ignition Zone, shown in the illustration below, includes the two primary determinants of a home’s ability to survive a wildfire – Structural Ignitability and the quality of the surrounding Defensible Space.
Structural Ignitability is the likelihood that the materials in and on your home will ignite during a wildfire. Defensible Space is the area around a home or other structure that has been modified to reduce fire hazards.
As you practice observing your surroundings and start taking steps to reduce your risk, living wildfire ready will become second nature.
Prepare Your Home for Wildfire
You can do this! Preparing your home for wildfire can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. The more you plan ahead, the more likely your home will survive a wildfire.
The Live Wildfire Ready website features a checklist of practical and low-cost actions you can easily do on the weekends — some of which you might already be doing. Overall, you’ll want to reduce wildfire hazards to your home and increase the likelihood your home survives when a wildfire occurs. Focus on reducing nearby fuel and minimizing the ability of the home to ignite.
Use the wildfire preparation checklist and consult the Home Ignition Zone guide to treat, clear or reduce natural and manmade fuels to slow the spread of wildfire to protect your home and property.
Starting this month, follow these weekly steps to stay prepared:
- Week 1 (May 1-7): Visit LiveWildfireReady.org (and check back for new resources)
- Week 2 (May 8-14): Clear gutters of debris
- Week 3 (May 15-21): Make sure your address is visible from the street
- Week 4 (May 22-28): Remove firewood from deck
- Week 5 (May 29+): Encourage your neighbors to Live Wildfire Ready
But it doesn’t stop there – living wildfire ready is an ongoing process, so use these steps to build a wildfire preparedness routine for your home and property.
Help your community by sharing these resources to encourage others to take action, further increasing the number of homes that are prepared for wildfire.
Many communities in the WUI of Colorado have developed Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPPs) which help residents and officials collaborate and determine how best to address local wildfire risk, build defensible space around homes, reduce structure ignitability and manage vegetation on nearby lands.
As a community member, your voice matters! CWPPs guide management priorities within a focused area like a neighborhood and ensure residents and partners are working from the same plan, on the same priorities. Some CWPPs develop evacuation protocols that inform residents of routes to take, safe locations to travel to and what to take with them.
CSFS foresters in 17 field offices across Colorado can advise on developing and updating CWPPs. Colorado residents can view CWPPs from towns, cities, counties and neighborhoods across the state. Explore the Live Wildfire Ready website to see if your community has localized resources for wildfire mitigation.
Keep Living Wildfire Ready
The Live Wildfire Ready website is a hub for actions you can take to reduce your wildfire risk, so check back often for updated information and resources.
Living in Colorado means living with wildfire. This reality can feel overwhelming, especially when our communities are at risk. But when we commit to living wildfire ready, we can protect our homes, families and the places we love.