With their super-dry conditions, Colorado’s wildlands can provide key insights to why some wildfires turn into destructive giants. The Fourmile Canyon Fire near Boulder, Colo., in 2010 is one example; it was, until the recent Waldo Canyon Fire near Colorado Springs, the most destructive wildfire in Colorado’s recorded history.
The 2010 incident, which destroyed 168 homes, holds many lessons for those of us in Washington State – and likely there will be more lessons to be learned as the recent Waldo Canyon Fire is analyzed.
Each year, Washington state — especially east of the Cascades — also experiences hot, dry, and windy weather similar to the conditions that fed both the Fourmile and Waldo Canyon fires. The good news is that we can learn helpful lessons from past wildfires.
Out of 168 homes destroyed in the Fourmile Canyon Fire, 83 percent ignited because the undergrowth had not been cleared. This undergrowth of flammable vegetation (abundant grasses, shrubs, branches and twigs) can create what is called ‘surface fire.’ Firefighters call this area around a home the ‘home ignition zone.’ The amount of these surface fuels around your home determines its vulnerability to wildfire.
To better prepare for future wildfires, the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies created preliminary findings of the Fourmile Canyon Fire. They found that fuel treatment areas around homes were small and narrow. A fuel treatment area is a space where trees have been thinned and all other flammable vegetation cleared.
In some cases, the finding reported, fuel treatments were ineffective because of a large amount of surface fuels remained, and the areas had not been maintained, becoming overgrown with brush and grasses.
Reducing brush appears to be the most important factor for success. The preliminary findings help support the argument that, if done correctly, defensible space around your home is worth the effort. This not only helps protect your home, but also gives firefighters a safer place to fight the fire.
Learn what you can do to protect your home from the risk of wildfire.
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