Boulderites need to continue working to reduce their home’s fire risk even when fire isn’t top of mind. The best time to do mitigation is before a fire happens. And right now, thanks to ample moisture, there’s a window of opportunity, city fire officials say.
“We had a real winter,” said Brian Oliver, the City of Boulder’s wildland fire division chief. “And now we’re having what I would consider a traditional spring where we’re getting some pretty steady, well-timed rain events. So fuels are green, everything is wet, and fire danger is super low.”
This low fire risk has let Oliver and his team catch up on a backlog of other work, like home assessments. These assessments — where a representative from the fire department visits your home to determine what is most likely to make it burn — are one of the best ways of stopping a repeat of December 2021, when hurricane-force winds threw embers from burning open space and wooden fences into subdivisions.
“The thing that prevents the next Marshall Fire, or that catastrophic outcome, is driven by the homeowner’s side of the equation,” Oliver said. “If we can keep that home-to-home ignition from starting in the first place, that Marshall Fire scenario doesn’t take place.”
Requests for such assessments, however, have dropped off as of late, likely because nothing is currently burning.
“Since we’re wet and green and not seeing smoke in the air daily, it’s an out of sight, out of mind thing,” Oliver said. “The first time we get a big, nationally televised fire, or something burns around here, we’ll get an uptick. But right now it’s pretty slow.”
The wildland division is making use of the slower time in part to ensure more home assessments can get done in the future. By working to hire for positions enabled by the city’s climate tax passed last November — positions like a community risk reduction program manager — there will be more public outreach on the importance of mitigation, and more bodies to complete home assessments when they’re requested. Additional staff will also help the department ensure mitigation encouraged by the assessment is completed.
“Home assessments are just information until someone uses it to make a change,” Oliver said.
The other project Oliver is working on is updating the city’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan, the first iteration of which was put together “haphazardly” in 2007, he said. Now, Oliver said the city is trying to be thoughtful in its approach and collaborate with Boulder County to ensure there’s cohesion across the county when it comes to priorities. A lot of that comes down to community feedback.
“We know what the best fire management practices are,” Oliver said. “And we’re already trying to do all those things. What we’re hoping the consultant will do is engage the community and have the community help drive what our priorities are.”
The consultant, SWCA, is the same Boulder County is using to update its own Community Wildfire Protection Plan. Meg Halford, a senior forest health manager, said not only is the county partnering with the city, it’s also partnering with the Mountain View Fire Protection District to get as much community engagement as possible.
“We each have our own executive core team members made up of experts,” she said. “Those teams really inform the science, the mapping and the technical aspects of the CWPP.”
But Halford said outside of this core team, it’s important the community has a space to “come and be heard” for what they think is important for the county and its partners to prioritize.
Halford said a questionnaire for the community to fill out will be available at the end of this month, with the first community engagement meeting coming on June 10 at the Superior Community Center.