Considerations in reducing wildfire risks in Grand County
Everything you do involves some measure of risk. Living in Grand County comes with great benefits, but with that comes the risk of wildfire. Risk cannot be eliminated but it can be managed.
To understand a home’s wildfire risk and what you can do to protect it, consider how wildfires spread. Wildfires do not always burn everything in their paths. Fire behavior is affected by fuel, weather, and terrain. Here is a look at the role these key elements play:
Fuel includes anything that burns including trees, shrubs, grass, homes, fences, sheds, and other vegetation and structures.
• Surface fuels include dry grass, shrubs, pine needles, dead branches and twigs. Surface fires tend to be relatively low-intensity fires, however homes are at risk if there are continuous fuels that can burn right up to the house.
• Ladder fuels include tall brush, low branches, and other fuels that can carry fire from a low-intensity ground fire up into the tops of the trees.
• Crown fuels are flammable tops of trees and tall shrubs, also called canopies. Once a wildfire becomes a crown fire, it spreads rapidly and reaches extreme intensity. Research suggests that homes must be within 100 feet of the flames to be directly ignited by a high-intensity crown fire, and breaks in tree canopies, such as roads and utilities, frequently keep high-intensity crown fires from directly reaching communities.
• Burning embers can be carried more than a mile by strong winds. During a wildfire embers can rain down on your roof and pelt the side of your home like hail during a storm. Embers coming into contact with flammable material is the most common reason for home destruction resulting from wildfire.
Dry, windy weather contributes significantly to the spread of wildfire. Wind can cause wildfires to grow quickly, to die down, or to change direction.
Generally, fire moves more quickly uphill and has longer flames than on level ground or when spreading downhill. The direction of the slope and how much sunlight or wind an area receives can impact fire behavior.
Wildfires are much less likely to ignite a home if the structure has been prepared with simple landscaping, construction, and maintenance methods such as those recommended by the NFPA’s Firewise Program (www.firewise.org). Members of your local fire department can come to a meeting of your HOA, community group, or town council to talk about the Firewise Communities/USA Recognition Program.
Using a five-step process, communities develop an action plan that guides their residential risk reduction activities, while engaging and encouraging their neighbors to become active participants in building a safer place to live. Following these steps will get your community started and on its way to receiving the official Firewise Communities USA recognition status, and the honor of proudly displaying its very own high-profile signage along with many other benefits.
The Wildfire Council is proud of the efforts made by the Winter Park Highlands Association (winterparkhighlands.org) and Pole Creek Meadows (polecreekmeadows.com) to become Firewise Communities! Please email us with your information, comments, or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 970-887-3380.
Guy Kirouac is a guest columnist and a member of the Grand County Wildfire Council. He is a retired physics teacher and currently operates a small woodworking business from his home studio.
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