Fort Morgan Field Office – Wildfire Mitigation & Education
The Fort Morgan Field Office works with federal, state and local agencies in northeast Colorado to help mitigate the hazards of wildfire to communities.
Homeowners can take steps to protect their property and reduce the risk of a wildfire destroying their home. Preventive measures include clearing excess fuel, creating defensible space around their home and using FireWise practices.
Due to the arid climate and fire-dependent forests in Colorado, many homeowners and landowners may be particularly vulnerable to wildfires. It is important to keep this threat in mind when buying or building a home.
Two factors have emerged as the primary determinants of a home’s ability to survive wildfires: having fire-resistant roofing, siding and porch materials, and creating a wildfire defensible zone around the home. Fire-resistant roofing material should be rated Class A when building a home in or near forests or grasslands. Avoid flammable roof materials such as wood or shake shingles at all costs.
Fire embers can travel a mile or more in front of the main body of fire. Your home’s construction can be a KEY factor in its ability to survive a wildfire. Researchers at the University of California put together a publication on Home Survival in Wildfire-Prone Areas and Building Materials and Design Considerations.
Defensible space is the natural and landscaped area around a home or other structure that has been modified to reduce fire hazard. This area gives your home a fighting chance against an approaching wildfire. Creating defensible space also reduces the chance of a structure fire spreading to the surrounding forest and other homes.
Defensible Space is a three-zone system starting at your home and extending to the property boundary.
Zone 1 is where the bulk of the vegetation modification takes place. The width of Zone 1 extends a minimum distance of 15-30 feet outward from a structure, depending on property size. The width can vary in size depending on the percent of the surrounding slope. As slope becomes steeper, the vegetation must be mitigated at a greater distance to compensate for the heat and wind moving up the slope. Remove as many trees and shrubs as possible and keep grasses less than six inches tall in this zone.
Zone 2 is an area of fuel reduction designed to diminish the intensity (wind, heat, smoke) of any wildfire approaching the structure. The width of Zone 2 depends on the slope around the structure. Typically, the zone should extend at least 100 feet from all structures (this includes zone one). Within this zone, trees and shrubs should be thinned so there is at least a 10-foot space between the edges of tree crowns. Ladder fuels, such as small shrubs, young trees and very low-growing branches, should be removed from beneath remaining trees.
Zone 3 is the remaining area between zone 2 and the property boundary. In this zone, the forest should be managed for general forest health. Any fuel removed from this zone will further protect the home in the case of a wildfire.
Maintenance of defensible space is critical to its effectiveness. At least annually, homeowners should mow grasses within the first 30 feet of the home; clean leaves, needles and debris from gutters, roof valleys and under decks; and prune back new growth and dead branches to ensure proper spacing of vegetation in all zones.
The main goal of defensible space is for a wildfire to encounter Zone 2, slow down its rate of movement and decrease its intensity, then encounter Zone 1 where combustible vegetation is minimal. Therefore, the wildfire cannot make direct contact with the structure and the wind will move the wildfire without too much destruction to the vegetation. Defensible space is not a one time activity; it must be maintained by the homeowner every year as vegetation continues to grow.
More specifics for each zone can be found in Protecting Your Home from Wildfire: Creating Wildfire-Defensible Zones and by calling the Fort Morgan Field Office for more assistance.
Additional Information on making your property more defensible:
- FireWise Construction: Site Design & Building Materials (1.3 MB PDF)
- Homeowner’s Guide to Wildfire Retrofit (290 KB PDF)
- Fire Safe Roof (1.3 MB PDF)
- The Combustibility of Landscape Mulches (1 MB PDF)
- Colorado Wildfire Risk Assessment Portal (CO-WRAP) – Mapping Tool
A Community Wildfire Protection Plans or CWPP brings together diverse local interests to discuss their mutual concern for public safety, community sustainability and natural resources. It offers a positive, solution-oriented environment in which to address challenges such as local firefighting capability, the need for defensible space around homes and subdivisions, and where and how to prioritize land management on both federal and non-federal land.
Visit the CSFS Community Wildfire Protection Plans web page to view the CWPPs in Colorado counties. Please contact your local fire protection district or call our office with any questions.