Members of our Community Editorial Board, a group of community residents who are engaged with and passionate about local issues, respond to the following question: Colorado’s wildfire season is becoming an all-year danger, and residents and governments are trying to adapt development to help make human habitat more resistant to fires. Your take?
My first up-close experience with wildfires came in the summer of 1998.
I was the environmental reporter for Wyoming’s Jackson Hole News, and a wildfire blazing through Grand Teton National Park exploded and threatened historic buildings. The paper’s photographer and I drove toward the flames, determined to report on the fire’s status with intricate details and images.
It was exhilarating. Scary, yes, but incredible to see the force of nature up close and to interview the wildland firefighters.
Twenty-four years later, wildfire no longer exhilarates me.
Wildfires are terrifying. They travel at immense speeds and, like hurricanes, cannot be stopped while in progress. They are destructive and potentially lethal.
Already twice this year, my family has evacuated our south Boulder home because of wildfires; the NCAR fire started about a half-mile from my house. The mental toll builds.
So I think a lot about how to fireproof our house. I’d love to live in an adobe or mud brick home, but since that’s not an option without demolishing and rebuilding, I’m looking at more feasible upgrades: metal roof, fire-resistant siding.
I would like the city and county to adopt stringent building standards to make structures more fire resistant and to also encourage native landscaping that could be more fire resistant.
And we must also have a massive public fire safety educational campaign. This would be ubiquitous and target people in schools, on billboards, in PSAs, on social media and more.
People must know what high fire danger actually means and how easy it is for a fire to burn out of control.
More, we need harsh and public punishments for anyone who starts a fire, intentionally or not. Zero tolerance for arson or stupidity (dropping a lit cigarette butt out a window, crashing a drone into a hillside, riding a motorbike over bone-dry weeds, and igniting a fire, burning garbage on private property, etc.) must be the norm.
Rachel Walker, firstname.lastname@example.org
At first glance, “Build Better” could be the Cliffs Notes version of the classic children’s fable of the hungry wolf and the three pigs.
Each piggy builds a new home of straw, sticks or stones, respectively, but the windy wolf makes short work of the first two, and quick meals of their builders. The stone house holds up, the owner is protected, the wolf vanquished.
Like all such fables, the story isn’t really about the successes and failures of pig construction in the face of extreme lupine weather. Rather, animals are anthropomorphized to teach a lesson about humans.
In this fable, the lesson is you should build the best possible protection against an environment of fearsome predators. But I think the lesson we are learning the hard way is goes far beyond the fable’s simplistic moral.
The major difference between our predicament and that of the three pigs is that the pigs were not ultimately responsible for the ferocity of their wolf-natured environment.
But we humans bear significant responsibility for unleashing the frightening environmental forces that are now emerging. And we can’t ignore that these forces include far more than just weather phenomena like drought, winds and fire.
For example, our ability to manipulate our immediate environment to our advantage has driven extinction rates 100 to 1,000 times the geological historical rate, driving down biodiversity and empowering other potential disasters we have never before faced or even imagined.
Just this week in the journal Nature, scientists present evidence that human-driven climate change will drive thousands of viruses to jump mammalian species (that includes us) in just the next 50 years.
So yes — on a very micro, Boulder-centric level we should build better to protect us from the forces we have unleashed as a disruptive species. But we can’t stop there.
Fintan Steele, email@example.com
Many of us know someone who lost their home and all their earthly belongings in the Marshall wildfire last December. We now skittishly watch the skies for smoke on these hot, windy days of spring and hope we don’t see anything ominous forming on the horizon.
A few weeks ago, the wind and the dust turned what was supposedly a sunny day into a miserable day made overcast by those conditions. The sweet smell of lilacs and other spring blossoms may be overshadowed by the hot, windy dryness that seems to be our new reality.
At least this year. Will it be better next year? Worse? Research points to the fact that fires and possibly heavy rainfalls and flash floods are all closely linked, and they are all becoming more frequent and more intense.
The good news is that there are things we can do to protect our homes and make them more fire-resistant, and they don’t cost much in the overall scheme of things.
Decks should be made of fire-resistant materials. Flammable fences should be replaced as should plants and shrubs near the home that are easily ignited.
There was a segment on the TV show “60 Minutes” in which a number of self-described climate refugees, mostly from California, are pulling up roots and moving to Duluth, Minnesota.
My husband and I are both from Minnesota, and we were struck by these changing times. Duluth was mainly known as a Great Lakes port for shipping iron ore — not as a desirable place to live. The Duluthians have tried to sugar-coat the near-constant cold, drab weather by referring to itself as the “air-conditioned city.”
I love Colorado, but I found myself calling my husband during the last dust storm to say “It may be time to move to Duluth!”
Fern O’Brien, firstname.lastname@example.org
In the wake of the Marshall Fire, communities along the Front Range are debating code and land use policies to potentially mitigate the devastation caused by a future wildfire. Among these policies, wildland-urban interface programs have been at the forefront of the talks.
These programs are designed to mitigate the risks of fire to life and property, and they differ from community to community. For example, they may include specifications for the number of structures allowed in an area that is at higher risk of wildfire and/or the distance allowed between structures.
One proposal that has been discussed in policy meetings since the Marshall Fire is to regulate the homes around the perimeter of housing developments with stricter standards if the homes back up to open spaces.
Other considerations include changes to code to enforce certain building materials and construction, such as noncombustible building materials for roofing, eaves, gutters, exterior walls and windows, and vegetation management around a property to prevent fire spread.
It is my opinion that even if the homes that were destroyed by the Marshall Fire had had stricter building codes in place, with increased setbacks and fire-resistant materials, that it would not have made a major difference in the outcome.
Homes are simply not fireproof, and this catastrophe was a combination of extreme dry weather conditions and hurricane- force winds. At the same time, I think it is the duty of our elected officials to discuss any potential mitigation steps to reduce the impact of wildfires as much as possible.
So, while the proposed policies may not make neighborhoods fireproof, they very well may reduce damages and save some families the pain of losing their homes. That certainly makes mitigation steps worth a try!
Hernan Villanueva, email@example.com