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Annual Report on the Health of Colorado's Forests

Living With Wildfire

Preparation Key to Reduce Wildfire Risk

Over the past few years, residents in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) have been adapting to a new normal for wildfire. This new normal encompasses a year-round threat of wildfire, including dangerous, fast-moving grassfires, and requires all homeowners living in the WUI to be prepared. The Marshall Fire at the end of 2021 was a heartbreaking demonstration of how quickly wildfire can destroy homes and properties under the right conditions. The most destructive wildfire in Colorado history in terms of insured losses underscored the fact that taking steps to protect homes and other structures from wildfire must happen before extreme winds develop and embers fly.

Landowners can reduce their risk of wildfire by removing flammable materials near their properties.
Landowners can reduce their risk of wildfire by removing flammable materials, such as dead and dying trees or dense woody material, near their homes and other structures. Photo: CSFS

The Marshall Fire also identified a gap in preparing for wildfire: Grassfires historically haven’t received as much attention or focus as fires in forested landscapes. While the CSFS is a “forest” service, the agency has wildfire mitigation specialists and foresters who support communities in grasslands and shrublands as well. Techniques to reduce wildfire risk are similar, whether in a forest or a grassland, and the CSFS is committed to working with partners such as CSU Extension and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, as well as other local resources such as county, non-profit and fire agency specialists, to assist all residents living in the WUI reduce their wildfire risk.

Weather and Wildfire

Wildfire has to have fuel to spread. Trees dried out due to drought or infested with insects or diseases provide fuel for wildfire. At the end of 2022, 42 percent of the state was in drought, and 31 percent was experiencing severe drought conditions or worse, according to the CSU Colorado Climate Center, which maintains Colorado’s climate data. The period from Oct. 1, 2021, to Sept. 30, 2022, was the 6th warmest on records for Colorado dating back to 1895, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

These climate change impacts of drought and warmer temperatures are out of our control, but there are steps Coloradans, especially those living in the WUI, can take to reduce their risk of wildfire. Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPPs) and individual advanced planning are two of the best ways to effectively prepare for wildfire.

Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPPs)

Preparation at a community level has greater impact than sporadic household or individual property mitigation efforts. CWPPs guide fuel treatment 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.

Using a chipper to turn downed trees and thinned branches into mulch is one way to create more defensible space around a home or building.
Using a chipper to turn downed trees and thinned branches into mulch is one way to create more defensible space around a home or building. Photo: Mercedes Siegle-Gaither, CSFS

CWPPs require input from various participants, including local officials, fire authorities, CSFS staff and residents. Legislative action in 2021 made funding available to help communities develop or update existing CWPPs, and in 2022, the CSFS updated the minimum standards for developing Community Wildfire Protection Plans.

Individual Planning for Wildfire

As an outreach agency, the CSFS invests substantial time, money and effort into educating Colorado residents on how to protect their homes and properties from wildfire. The agency works with partners across the state to reach homeowners and communities to help residents take action to reduce the risk of damage from wildfires.

Wildfire Awareness Month each May raises awareness about wildfire mitigation at the individual level. The Colorado General Assembly dedicated funding in 2022 to a wildfire awareness campaign that will launch in May 2023 during Wildfire Awareness Month. This campaign will provide Colorado residents with clear, concise information about their responsibility to prepare their home and property for wildfire and how to do it. It will also share information on home hardening and creating defensible spaces around buildings.

The Home Ignition Zone guide provides detailed, easy-to-follow information and steps homeowners can take to reduce their risk of wildfire, such as removing flammable debris from roofs and decks, as well as guidelines for spacing of trees and vegetation to best reduce fire intensity. Since its publication in May 2021, the CSFS has distributed nearly 30,000 copies of the Home Ignition Zone guide, and in 2023 it will be available in Spanish as well.

Help with Creating or Updating a Community Wildfire Protection Plan

CWPPs are one of the most effective ways communities can prepare for wildfire in advance. These plans help guide local action by getting residents and officials together to determine how best to address local wildfire risk, defensible space around homes, reduction of structure ignitability and vegetation management on nearby lands.

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.

Wildfire Mitigation Must Be Second Nature

The number and intensity of wildfires in Colorado in 2022 were less than previous years. It is critical to remember that the continued drought and warmer temperatures leave large swaths of Colorado vulnerable to uncharacteristic wildfire that can cause significant damage to public and private property, loss of life and degradation of air and water quality across the state. Thinning dense, overgrown forests adjacent to communities and preparing homes and property for wildfire must continue to be second nature for all Coloradans to protect our homes, water supplies, air quality, recreation areas and our way of life.

CSFS News about Living With Wildfire

aerial view of an alpine forested landscape

Partners Improve Forest Health Across Boundaries

Large-landscape projects in areas with multiple partners and stakeholders can be complicated. Learn how the Franktown Field Office’s leadership and collaboration with partners will result in treatment of approximately 700 acres, resulting in a substantially lower risk of wildfire for a rural community.

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