Mar 2, 2022 - News

Colorado examines statewide building codes to address wildfires

Photo illustration of hands pointing at each other over a wildfire.

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Getty Images photos: Joshua Roberts and Paul J. Richards/AFP

A new federal report outlines dozens of recommendations to address the leading causes of Colorado's most destructive wildfires, like the Marshall and Waldo Canyon blazes.

  • The scientific findings — collected from observations over a dozen years and tens of thousands of hours of field study — collectively highlight the lack of statewide standards for building in fire-prone areas.

What to watch: Colorado lawmakers and the Polis administration are studying the idea of more oversight, but it remains controversial in a state where local authorities hold the reins.

  • Asked about the prospect, state House Speaker Alec Garnett (D-Denver) wouldn't commit to a new approach, saying the Marshall Fire was unique in how fast it spread. But he said that lawmakers would talk "through what worked and didn't work."

Context: Colorado takes a backseat when it comes to land-use planning and building resiliency codes, deferring to counties and cities as one of only a handful of states without statewide rules.

Zoom in: In Boulder County, where the Marshall Fire destroyed more than 1,000 homes, the last major update to building codes came in 1993, Jim Webster, the county's Wildfire Partners project manager, tells us.

  • Still, those rules need updating. "Even for homes built post 1993, we're working with them to prepare them for wildfire," he said.

What's next: The Marshall Fire and past destructive seasons may ultimately cause a shift in mindset.

The commission, in collaboration with local authorities, is still working through that question.

  • "I get local control, but how do you find that balance?" asked Mike Morgan, the director of the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control.

Go deeper: Colorado's wildfire mitigation strategy plagued by gaps, new report shows

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