Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Valley needs to protect itself from wildland fires


The middle of a rainy season like this one is precisely the right time for elected and appointed officials in the Wood River Valley to take measures to prevent damage from wildfire.

This year's lull in new home construction is just the time for policymakers to draft and enact measures to require that homes and businesses be built to resist wildfire. It's time to put ongoing education and prevention programs in place to help homeowners refurbish existing homes with fire-resistant materials.

A study released this month by researchers at the University of Colorado-Boulder criticized the federal government's National Fire Plan, which aims to reduce fuel for wildland fires, for conducting fuel reduction and mitigation projects far from the communities the plan was designed to protect.

Nonetheless, the study concluded that the government will have difficulty fulfilling the plan's mission because many of the fuel-laden wildlands are near homes on private property.

The study concluded that federal efforts to reduce wildland-fire risks had not been effective in protecting homes because just 11 percent of the efforts had been targeted where cities and suburbs meet fuels—at the urban-wildlands interface.

The Wood River Valley and its developed side canyons are one big interface. When wildlands burned during the 2007 Castle Rock Fire, the blowing embers from the fire fell on private flammable rooftops, landscaping and decks—property that federal fire agencies can't control, but local governments can.

The Colorado researchers suggested a "significant shift in fire-policy emphasis from federal to private lands."

We read that to mean that local government and private residents can't expect the federal government to bear the entire responsibility for fire suppression and prevention. Interface communities and property owners need to help themselves.

Putting out the Castle Rock Fire cost more than $15 million dollars—not including the cost of the loss of local business. Nationwide, suppression costs are running $1 billion a year.

Despite Castle Rock, the valley's cities and the county still do not have mandatory wildland-fire protection measures in place, i.e. requirements for clear zones around homes and for use of fire-resistant materials in new and remodeled homes.

With the planet heating up and fire risks growing, it's imperative for people to protect themselves and their communities. It's a lot easier and cheaper to prevent fires from engulfing homes and businesses than it is to put them out.




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