Summit County ups its wildfire game after last year’s sobering reminder
BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. – After the big drought year of 2002, public officials in Summit County got wildfire religion. That year the giant Hayman Fire charred 138,000 acres just across the Continental Divide in the foothills southwest of Denver. In Colorado that same summer, big fires howled at Glenwood Springs and north of Durango.
Instead of resisting any and all timber cutting, public officials in Summit County began pushing for selective cutting, began requiring defensible space, began focusing on what is often called the wildland-urban interface. Almost all of the homes in Summit County fall in that category.
Still, there was another fire last summer, when a billowing blaze in the Tenmile Range seemed to be heading straight for Breckenridge. It didn’t get there. The weather intervened. But it was a stern reminder that communities of Summit County were vulnerable.
Now, Summit County’s government has stepped up the effort to reduce wildfire hazard with the most comprehensive update to the Community Wildfire Protection Plan in 10 years.
The effort began before last year’s fire, but Dan Gibbs, a county commissioner as well as a wildland firefighter, said the Peak Two Fire was a “sobering reminder of how real the threat of wildfire is in Summit County. We’re very fortunate that the fire didn’t make its way into our neighborhoods, but we have to be proactive in taking concrete steps to reduce our exposure to those types of risks.”
Wildfire hazards and potential mitigation measures must be assessed when updating master plans and as part of any new rezoning, planned unit development, or subdivision application.
New landscaping regulations promote a more wildfire-resilient community through defensible space requirements. The changes also address the placement of combustible materials, such as wood fencing and firewood piles, which can indirectly lead to home loss from wildfire.
“We arrived at these changes through a rigorous review and analysis by numerous wildfire experts, community stakeholders and county representatives,” said Lindsay Hirsh, senior planner.
Since 2006, more than 150 wildfire hazard-reduction projects have been completed through partnerships among Summit County, the U.S. Forest Service, local towns, residents, and landowners. Other partners in forest-thinning projects include Denver Water and the Colorado Forest Service.
Denver Water last February committed another $16.5 million to efforts to address forest stands in Summit County, from which it draws water for metropolitan Denver. — Allen Best