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As blazes in Colorado threaten more homes and people, KUNC’s three-part series explores how Front Range communities are adapting.

Clean your gutters, rake up your leaves: some household chores can also protect against fire

Leigh Paterson
Brian Oliver, the Wildland Fire Division Chief for the City of Boulder Fire-Rescue, stands outside at the Boulder Fire Training Center. After the Marshall Fire, he says that call volume for home assessments services sky-rocketed.

While some fire-impacted communities in Northern Colorado are rebuilding their homes from scratch, other residents want to make their existing homes more fire-resistant. Some of these improvements are simple and relatively low-cost.

“Cleaning out your gutters, raking up the piles of leaves and grass and things like that,” Brian Oliver, Wildland Fire Division Chief for the City of Boulder Fire-Rescue, said. “Just all of those little maintenance things. A lot of people don't realize they're doing that, you know, to make their house look pretty. But it's also helping them for fire mitigation as well.”

Juniper trees, which are prevalent in Boulder, are also a fire hazard.

“They propagate fire very easily. They burn very hot. The other big consideration for juniper is they create a lot of embers, which then put anything, any structure, anything else downwind at a bigger risk,” Oliver said. “So getting people to start removing them and pointing out and educating them about the fire hazards of juniper has been a big push on our part.”

Here are more basic tips on how to make your home more fire-safe:

  • Cover roof and attic vents in ⅛ inch mesh to prevent embers from entering.
  • Keep your yard in good condition! In addition to raking up piles of leaves, trim any branches that hang over the home. Remove dead vegetation out from under decks and porches.
  • Avoid flammable materials, like wood mulch, within five feet of the home.  
  • Avoid storing flammable materials, like cloth patio furniture, under decks. If you have to evacuate, bring those items indoors.
  • Consider removing any flammable vegetation planted close to the home.

Following the Marshall Fire, which destroyed over 1,000 homes in Boulder County last year, the city of Boulder saw a sharp increase in interest from residents wanting to make their houses more fire safe. Before the incident, the home assessment team that Oliver oversees would get a few requests per week.

“We instantly got, I mean within two weeks, 250 almost 300 requests,” Oliver said. “Just slammed with them.”

But not all residents can easily make fire-safe updates to their homes. Variables such as income, age, mobility and language proficiency can impact how vulnerable people prepare for and recover from wildfires, according to Headwaters Economics.

Dec. 31: Louisville, Colo. — Fire crews work to put out flames at a home burned in the Marshall Fire in Boulder County.
RJ Sangosti
Denver Post via Getty Images
Dec. 31: Louisville, Colo. — Fire crews work to put out flames at a home burned in the Marshall Fire in Boulder County.

Near where the Marshall Fire started, residents in a mobile home park are still recovering from the severe wind damage from the incident. Susan Gibson, the president of the resident’s co-op at Table Mesa Village, said that to her knowledge, residents aren’t working to make their homes more fire resistant; many are still dealing with the repairs to their roofs and siding.

Individual fire departments often lack the personnel and resources to help individual residents make these updates.

“I do think we're going to have an underserved population that can't afford the retrofits and can't afford the work,” Oliver said, noting that he hopes to hire staffers who can do outreach on these issues and also set up funding sources.

Boulder County’s Wildfire Partners program offers home assessments and financial assistance but that service is currently only available to homeowners in the foothills and mountains. But in November, voters in Boulder County can weigh in on a few ballot measures to fund wildfire mitigation efforts, including the eastward expansion of the Wildfire Partners program.

For more information on how to make a home more fire-resistant, check out the National Fire Protection Association.

As KUNC's mental health reporter, I seek to create a sense of urgency and understanding around issues related to mental illness, access to care and happiness in Northern Colorado and our mountain communities.
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