In preparing to write the cover story, “Build. Burn. Repeat?,” for the latest issue of NFPA Journal, I tried to find answers to a basic question: Why, when faced with indisputable risks and potentially devastating outcomes, do some wildfire-prone communities enact policies to prepare for and reduce the risk, while others seem to ignore the risks entirely? Even in cases where wildfire had just recently destroyed large portions of whole towns, many leaders choose to do nothing to stop it from happening again. I asked around NFPA’s Wildfire Division and was pointed to El Paso County, Colorado. In back-to-back years the most destructive wildfires in state history lay waste to portions of the county—first 2012’s Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs, which burned 347 homes; then 2013’s Black Forest Fire, which burned about 500 homes just 20 miles away. The response from local leaders in the aftermath of these events have been very different. Why? This case study came out of conversations with Colorado Springs Fire Marshal Brett Lacey and others in the area, and I think it sheds some light on the political, cultural, and economic forces that local officials are up against when they try to enact smart building practices to mitigate wildfire's impact. These challenges seem to be common across the nation for wildfire safety advocates in the crusade to protect more homes from burning. Read: Miles Apart, Worlds Away How the post-fire stories of Colorado Springs and El Paso County illustrate the political challenges of enacting community wildfire mitigation measures
JESSE ROMAN is associate editor for NFPA Journal.