FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 26, 2016
Contact: Jim Webster, Boulder County Land Use, 720-564-2600
Firefighters, wildfire mitigation and Wildfire Partners save homes in the Cold Spring Fire
Boulder County, Colo. – The headline of the Cold Springs Fire was proclaimed by The Mountain-Ear on July 14 as “Firefighters win!” The subheadline of the fire is “Mitigation wins too!”
Seeing homes standing untouched by a wildfire—even though they are surrounded by destroyed structures and burned vegetation—can be so surreal that some people want to declare these scenes as miracles. In fact, these homes are still standing thanks to hard work—performed by homeowners completing mitigation measures before fires occur and by firefighters suppressing the fire as it burns.
In and around the Cold Springs Fire perimeter, there is a long list of “saves,” homes that survived the fire. All residents in the region are indebted to the firefighters who protected and saved so many homes. From the mitigation perspective, all eight Wildfire Partners homes within the burn perimeter survived intact as well as all 13 homes that were constructed in compliance with the county’s wildfire mitigation building code requirements. The fact that none of these mitigated homes were destroyed is an important story that needs to be told. Dozens of additional Wildfire Partners homeowners who were evacuated received benefits from their mitigation work simply by knowing that they had acted responsibly and prepared their structures in advance.
During the Cold Springs Fire, firefighters were able to do structure prep on a number of homes that were not already mitigated—trying to create non-combustible zones around structures; moving large firewood piles, pine needles, wood mulch, deck furniture and other items away from homes; and cutting down and limbing trees right up against structures. On many other fires, firefighters do not have the time to do this work. Their message is clear—homeowners need to take responsibility and mitigate their homes in advance with the assistance of programs like Wildfire Partners.
According to Jay Stalnacker, Boulder County’s Fire Management Officer, “Mountain and foothills homeowners have a direct responsibility to maintain and prepare their homes and property for a wildfire. When homeowners and government can collaborate as a community to both restore natural ecosystems and create defensible wildfire mitigation, both the environment and homeowners benefit. Wildfire Partners is an example of this effort and the results are obvious as you look at the post fire effects of the Cold Springs Fire. The mitigation created defensible space for firefighters to safely work in and ultimately helped create a more natural and healthy looking forest.”
National mitigation expert Pat Durland stresses that “Home loss to wildfires is a solvable issue, and programs like Wildfire Partners help folks understand and act to make that happen. It’s NOT a miracle or luck, it’s the process of combustion, and if we manage the fuels, combustion is interrupted and we win!”
Wildfire Mitigation Success Stories
Wildfire Partners homeowners have success stories to tell because they performed comprehensive mitigation that often entailed many hours of hard work and hundreds of dollars of expense. Wildfire Partners homeowners spend an average of 60 hours and $2,400 performing mitigation and receive an average of $700 in financial assistance from the program.
Each of these homeowners has an interesting story to tell of how their efforts were worth it and how mitigation and Wildfire Partners helped save their homes.
The following Wildfire Partners homeowners have agreed to be interviewed by print media to share their important stories.
David and Trise (Patricia) Ruskay
Over the last few years, David and Trise Ruskay have been thinning and taking lower limbs off all the trees around his house, removing about 30 pine and spruce trees. They removed juniper and kinnikinnick bushes completely in that 30 foot range as well. The Ruskay’s performed his mitigation with the advice of Wildfire Partners.
As the flames steamed up his driveway, David ran along with Timberline and Nederland firefighter and only had about five minutes to take what he could. “I returned expecting to see very little left of our home and gorgeous property. What I found was a 360 degree 50 foot swath all the way around the house in which there sat a green island, our house untouched in the middle of it and black everywhere beyond that line.”
David is clear. He did not save his home from this fire. “Local, not so local and not even close to local firefighters saved it. They risked life and limb to make sure my wife Trise and I had a place to return to. All I did was help them make it happen.”
“For those of my close neighbors that lost all, I am so very sorry. They need our help and support and are sure to get it. Those that survived can thank their consistent and diligent mitigation and all the agencies that were fearless and brilliant in their attack.”
David’s advice, “Invest the time and money necessary to automatically produce the most successful outcome possible. I can’t describe adequately how great it feels to be home again safe and sound.”
Bob Lanham has been working on mitigation of his mountain home for many years and received his Wildfire Partners Certificate in 2015. His mitigation worked perfectly, ground fires stopped about 20 feet from the structure and trees burned within about 100 feet. He saw this exact fire coming 10 years ago and implemented a very specific and targeted mitigation program for when that day arrived.
According to Bob, his story “would make a true believer out of any mountain homeowner of the value of fire mitigation.” When he purchased the home, it suffered from 30 years of benign neglect and was a fire waiting to happen—wood shingles, lumber stacked under the wood decks, and dense conifers overhanging the home.
Bob’s house was ground zero. The fire burned across half of his yard on the south side of the house. It stopped at the point where he’d earlier raked the grass down to bare dirt, removing accumulated pine needles and aspen leaves. He said it was “a lot of work, but worth it.”
Bob’s was the only surviving home of the three adjacent properties on Sherwood Road. He believes his neighbors’ homes would have survived if they had mitigated to the extent he did. One of his neighbors just bought his house and hadn’t even moved in yet. He was planning to join Wildfire Partners and work on mitigation; he just didn’t have enough time.
Bob said that one thing that probably saved his home, in addition to his mitigation efforts, was the selfless actions of Charles Schmittmann, a captain with the Nederland Fire Protection District. Bob was unable to get to his residence before the mandatory evacuation, leaving his garage door open to blowing embers. Charles checked on homes as the fire swept through the neighborhood and closed the garage door. At the same time he was doing this, his own home fell victim to the fire and was totally destroyed.
On Lester’s property, the fire came dangerously close to all of his buildings, yet none burned. Two of his neighbors lost their homes. Nederland Fire Chief, Rick Dirr told Lester that his mitigation really helped save the property and they did assign assets to protect it. According to Boulder County’s Fire Operations Specialist Seth McKinney, Lester’s home was “very well mitigated.”
Lester stated, “Fire was going to happen. It was a question of when, not if. I feel after this fire that I should have gone further in my mitigation efforts, but I really didn’t understand how the fire was going to react. I did my basic stuff, but not extra. It was a lot of hours and money, but it was worth it. My lesson from this experience was that we will build the buffers even bigger.”
Wildfire Partners background
Launched in 1994, Wildfire Partners is a collaborative initiative with more than 35 partner organizations led by Boulder County. The program provides critical technical and financial assistance to help Boulder County homeowners in the foothills and mountains prepare for wildfire. It is funded by Boulder County, a $1.5 million grant from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, and a $1.125 million grant from FEMA. More than 800 homeowners are currently participating in the program with more joining every day.
The Wildfire Partners Program in specifically for those residents in and around the Boulder area. To achieve the same results contact CUSP to learn what programs we have available in your part of the forest.
CUSP – 719-748-0033 / cusp.ws