4:16pm

Thu February 20, 2014
Environment

Forest Health, Fire Mitigation Are Factors As Colo. Moves Deeper Into Wildlands

A firefighter walks though the burned aftermath of the Black Forest Fire northeast of Colorado Springs. Picture taken June 21, 2013.
Credit Earth Observatory / NASA

Residents living in Colorado’s wildland urban interface, or WUI will need to do more fire planning and mitigation in the years ahead.

That’s according to the annual 2013 Report on the Health of Colorado’s Forests [.pdf], released this week by the Colorado State Forest Service.

Colorado State University describes the WUI as “any area where man-made improvements are built close to, or within, natural terrain and flammable vegetation, and where high potential for wildland fire exists.”

About 20 percent of the WUI is developed, but that number is expected to grow as more people move into forested areas up and down the Front Range. Satellite photography shows that in Colorado Springs. Between 1985 and 2013, human development in the city has moved ever closer into wildfire prone areas.

About one million Coloradans live in the WUI.

“What we need to do is go about the business of doing management on lands that are available and setting them up so while we won’t eliminate insects, disease and fire we can mitigate those impacts into the future and lessen them,” said Joe Duda, Deputy State Forester for Colorado.

Duda says thinning the forests in the WUI as well as local governments asking residents to create more defensible space around their buildings can help mitigate fire risk but not fully eliminate it.

A 2012 I-News investigation found in the past two decades, many across the state have moved into the WUI, or 'red zones:'

Today, 1.1 million Coloradans live in more than half a million homes in red zones across the state, an I-News analysis found. That’s one of every four homes and one of every five people in the state. In some counties, including Pitkin – home to Aspen – Teller and Summit counties, more than 90 percent of the population lives in a red zone.

Colorado wildfires are becoming increasingly costly and destructive. Since 2002, wildfires have destroyed roughly 2,000 structures according to federal fire data.

Duda says “as we build and develop that WUI the better we consider how we align those who create risk with accepting responsibility the better position we’ll be with our fire fighting resources to protect people.”