Boulder County has seen its share of wildfires in recent years. In the summer months last year, smoke filled the air. If you drive north from Boulder on Highway 36, you’ll see charred trees and remains of homes destroyed by last summer’s fires that came dangerously close to the city. The fires in recent weeks in Routt County and Western states bringing haze to the Front Range are a huge wake-up call to be prepared, especially for those who live in the mountains and foothills where wildfire is an ongoing hazard.
Wildfire tends to be a summer peril. Nevertheless, our winters have been no stranger to wildfire. When there’s no snow on the ground and conditions are dry, the wildfire danger can be just as high as it would be now. While the forests and grasslands of Boulder County are incredibly beautiful places to live, they are also the locations with the greatest menace of wildfire.
As a Realtor® I have known several clients and friends who have lost their homes to wildfire. Since fire is a threat to so many of us in Boulder County, we need to be ready if the time comes. Everyone needs to have a plan to take what is important with them — and they may only have a few minutes to make that decision.
There are a variety of resources to help you prepare for a wildfire emergency:
Check out National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) Firewise USA web page offering a wide range of helpful information at: nfpa.org/Public-Education/Fire-causes-and-risks/Wildfire/Firewise-USA.
If you live in Boulder County, you’ll also want to visit wildfirepartners.org. Wildfire Partners is a program with Boulder County’s Community Planning and Permits Department, which helps homeowners prepare for wildfires. Once you join the program and a mitigation specialist assesses your home, you must complete a suggested checklist of preventative measures to mitigate the risk of wildfire. Once that is completed, Wildfire Partners will issue you a certificate that can be used as proof of mitigation for insurance purposes. The following is a list of quick tips to have your bases covered in case of a wildfire emergency.
Most of us have to admit that we haven’t completely read our hazard insurance policies. However, if you live in a fire hazard area, it is even more important to know exactly what to expect from your insurance coverage. You need to investigate what the insurance company will do towards the replacement of your home or other options. Just as important is what they will do to help while you’re rebuilding.
A written and photographic inventory of your personal property is critical to have. Be sure to save it off- site and also back it up online.
An annual review with your insurance agent is a must! Some insurance companies will schedule a time to inspect your home and its surroundings. Defensible space is one of the first things they will check.
Your insurance agent and the other resources listed above can help you work out your exact fire defense, safety, and recovery plan with plenty of detail. Here are three quick tips to get started on you plan:
First of all, remove fuel (anything that can burn!) from near your house. Learn about the three fire zones Firewise says are around your house. The Immediate Zone is the first five feet from the foundation. In that zone, you don’t want anything flammable. The Intermediate Zone is next, which is the section 5 to 30 feet from the home. This area should have fire breaks like lawns and driveways. Tree canopies should not come within 10 feet of the house and the trees should be at least 18 feet apart. The Extended Zone is next. Trees from 30 to 60 feet out from the house should have spacing at least 12 apart. Spaces between trees should be greater if they are on a steep slope.
Install a fire-retardant roof
Many of the older homes in the mountains west of Boulder were originally built with shake roofs. There should not be too many of those left now, but if you don’t have a fire-retardant roof, it should be a priority to get one installed as soon as possible.’
Be prepared to leave
The odds are high that when the notice to evacuate your home comes, there won’t be much time. Residents in high-risk areas should have a plan. That plan should include a list of what possessions to take on a priority basis. If you only have five minutes, you may only be able to take the items at the top of the list. Most people say that one of the things they would grab quickly are the family pictures. In our digital world, it is easy to upload sacred family pictures to the Cloud. Even old family photographs can be scanned and uploaded.
Important documents might not survive. You may want to keep paper documents in a storage container that’s easy to find quickly, or in a fire-proof safe – or even better, in an off-site safety deposit box. You can also store digital documents and important files on the cloud or on a secure online file hosting site like Dropbox.
In addition, any plan for a wildfire should include a primary escape route and a back-up escape route. If family members are at different locations at the time of the emergency, you should have an agreed upon meeting place.
The real estate market and wildfire
It’s important to be aware of the long-term implications on the real estate market when there is a fire. When smoke is in the air, it is difficult for homebuyers to think of purchasing a home in that area. Closings don’t happen because insurance quickly becomes unavailable. The real estate market comes to a rapid stop in an area directly affected by the fire. An area with masses of trees can take years to grow back again and the market may take a long time to recover. Yet areas where there have been grass fires can come back greener and prettier in just one growing season, and the next summer you may not be able to tell there was even a fire.
If you would like additional help to be prepared in the event of a wildfire, you may want to order the book, “Surviving Wildfire” by Linda Masterson. It is local and relevant. Linda and her husband lost their home to a wildfire west of Fort Collins in 2011. Dave Zader, a fire manager, calls it “full of information that could save homes…and lives.”
By Duane Duggan. Duane has been a Realtor for RE/MAX of Boulder in Colorado since 1982 and has facilitated over 2,500 transactions over his career, the vast majority from repeat and referred clients. He has been awarded two of the highest honors bestowed by RE/MAX International: The Lifetime Achievement Award and the Circle of Legends Award. Living the life of a Realtor and being immersed in real estate led to the inception of his book, Realtor for Life. For questions, e-mail [email protected], call 303.441.5611 or visit boulderco.com.