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Colorado Wildfires Give Task Force New Urgency


With thousands of acres blackened across Colorado, there is renewed interest in a task force charged with limiting wildfire destruction.

The 19-member group—representing the wide ranging interests of insurance companies, home builders, and the Forest Service to name a few—are touring the Black Forest Fire burn area Thursday to see the fire’s impact firsthand.

“There is a heightened sense of urgency certainly about the work before us,” said Barbara Kelley, who heads up the group and is director of the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies.

Working Recommendations [.pdf] from the Task Force on Wildfire Insurance and Forest Health focus on the Wildland Urban Interface, or WUI. Topics include forest treatments, zoning and the insurance marketplace. One idea would require homeowners to pay a fee if they live in certain zoned areas to help offset the costs of fighting wildfires. Others are focused on getting cities to pass stricter building codes.

“We have a whole variety of agencies who would be involved in addressing all of this. It’s not any one entity, and it’s not any one jurisdiction” said Kelley.

"There is a heightened sense of urgency certainly about the work before us."

The key agencies to implement any building code changes would be city and county governments. Local control is important according to Larimer County Commissioner Lew Gaiter because different areas have different needs.

“We’re not Boulder County, we’re not Weld County, and we’re not El Paso County,” he said. “Things that might work well down there might not work well in Larimer County. And conversely things that might work great in Larimer County might not be as great in others.”

Larimer County did not make building code changes following the High Park Fire. Gaiter says that’s because commissioners felt building codes were up to date on wildfire mitigation [.pdf]—even though they don’t regulate things like deck materials.

“I don’t believe there’s a reluctance to put those kinds of things in place,” said Gaiter. “We just don’t want to knee-jerk react. We want to do intelligent decisions that make sense that are made in a rational frame of view, not an emotional frame of view.”

In contrast, Colorado Springs passed specific building code updates for homes in the mountains after the Waldo Canyon Fire. When it comes to new codes, Task Force head Barbara Kelley says it will ultimately be up to local governments to decide which ideas to adopt.

“That’s a function of the residents of that county, local government, county commissioners and the like,” said Kelley.

A full list of recommendations is expected by the end of the summer. Then it will be up to local governments, the Colorado Legislature and the governor to decide which—if any ideas—become law.

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