In early July of 2016, the Cold Springs Fire ignited from careless camping and led to eight homes destroyed and the evacuation of nearly 2,000 people near Boulder, Colorado. Ending at about 528 acres and with two men being charged with fourth-degree arson, the fire tested the good work being done by the Boulder Wildfire Partners.
After the fire, Boulder Wildfire Partners Program Coordinator Jim Webster invited me to take a look at 4 properties that the fire had visited and yet survived. Three of these sites were particularly interesting and their stories compelling.
My wife Jill, a Wildfire Mitigation Specialist from nearby Douglas County, drove me to Boulder as I was recovering from knee surgery and was barely able to walk much less drive. She also had an interest in seeing how this fire had impacted residences and what the surviving homes looked like. We met up with Jim, Kyle McCatty and Chris Rea, all Boulder County staff, and headed up Boulder Canyon to the fire area.
As we drove through parts of the fire zone, the effect of topography and wind on this fire was obvious. It hopscotched around, burning intensely in some areas, and not so much in others. Parts of the landscape showed sticks of severely burned Pine and even Quaking Aspens. In other areas, Aspens and even some surface vegetation remained. You could also see areas where the wind had been blocked by the significant topography and how the fire intensity was less. And then we came to the first house.
I have often said, it is easier to determine why a home burned down in a wildfire than to figure out why it didn't. There are just so many variables, but these homeowners had done a bunch of things right. They had a very good non-combustible zone within 5 feet of the structure, they had thinned trees will out beyond 60 feet, which was good, because the intense fire burned within yards of the home. The had a good roof and fire resistant building materials. They had some melting and scorching on the most exposed side of the house and some of their double-paned windows cracked, but the fire never entered the interior and the home survived.
Another home we visited belonged to a gentleman named Lester. Lester had done a tremendous amount of work on the approximately 30 acres he owns. He had been thinning for years and it paid off. While he lost a lot of trees, even in the areas he thinned, his home remained, but his neighbor's home was lost, clearly to embers and low intensity surface fire. "Your view doesn't have to be right in your back yard", Lester said. "If you live up here, you have to understand what fire can do and take the steps necessary to protect your home".
The last home we visited was Bob's. He did significant mitigation over ten years on his 30 acres as a way to de-stress from being a lawyer. The thinning he did all over his property allowed the Aspen groves he had immediately adjacent to most of his home to act as a barrier to fire reaching the structure. Bob was one of the first people to reach the origin of the fire and helped firefighters find it. However, the fire escaped control, Bob had to evacuate and unfortunately, at least two of his neighbors lost their homes.
Both Lester and Bob were extremely knowledgeable about wildfire and fire behavior. Both had predicted how fire would probably approach their properties and planned their mitigation accordingly. And they both were right, that day.
These are just examples of folks who took what they learned from being in the Boulder Wildfire Partners program and put it into action to decrease their risk from wildfire. They worked hard, used some creative thinking around fire resistant trees and did the work where it mattered most. And most importantly, they and their homes survived.
Jim Webster will be talking more about the Boulder Wildfire Partners on the Firewise Ask an Expert Virtual Workshop scheduled to air on Oct. 11, 2016 at 1:p.m. EDT/11:00 a.m. MDT.