Mar 2, 2022 - News

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

In this aerial view, burned cars sit in front of a home decimated by the Marshall Fire on January 4, 2022.

In this aerial view, burned cars sit in front of a home decimated by the Marshall Fire on Jan. 4 in Louisville. Photo: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

The imminent threat of deadly wildfires near urban areas, like the Marshall Fire in Colorado, demands that homes be built to survive.

Driving the news: The intensity of these firestorms, particularly in densely populated areas, is too great to rely on first responders alone, according to a landmark federal report released Tuesday.

BFD: National Institute of Standards and Technology experts are calling for a massive overhaul to how communities mitigate the potential for fires in wildland-urban interfaces (WUI).

  • The current building codes and best practices are insufficient to prevent widespread destruction, they conclude, outlining an all-new methodology.
  • "As losses mount, a paradigm shift of the hazard mitigation approaches that have been widely used to date is needed," the authors write.

Why it matters: Even though it was commissioned after the 2018 Camp Fire in California, the study is designed to address events like the recent Marshall Fire, lead author Alexander Maranghides tells Axios Denver.

  • The 77-page study and findings from an Axios Denver investigation make clear that the approach of Colorado authorities is insufficient to address threats posed from fires like those in Boulder County and Waldo Canyon.

What we found: In interviews Axios conducted, state and local officials emphasized property owner education as the No. 1 defense against wildfires.

  • But while important, the new NIST report bluntly says the strategy "does not go far enough to solve the larger-scale problem."

Similarly, the current piecemeal mitigation approach, working one-on-one with willing homeowners, and divergent local building codes leave significant gaps.

  • NIST fire experts say "full community participation" is necessary. "Just a few partially hardened properties can jeopardize an entire high-density community," the report states.

Reality check: The extensive findings would take time to implement and likely prove expensive.

  • But the authors say selective hardening actions and mitigation strategies are still cheaper than a one-size-fits all approach.
  • "If we harden communities to the extreme, there would be no WUI fires," Maranghides told us.

Go deeper: Colorado examines statewide building codes to address wildfires

This story first appeared in the Axios Denver newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard. Subscribe here.

avatar

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Denver.

🌱

Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Denver stories

Denverpostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Denver.

🌱

Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more