Colorado homeowners living in high-risk wildfire areas should be charged fees, and officials need to adopt statewide building requirements to address destructive fires, according to recommendations Monday from a group convened by Gov. John Hickenlooper.
The recommendations seek to shift more responsibility to homeowners living in wildfire-prone areas after two consecutive summers of devastating fires that destroyed hundreds of homes.
The group said Colorado should develop a map of areas where development overlaps with forested areas – called the Wildland-Urban Interface – to calculate risks to individual properties. Higher-risk homes would be assessed higher fees.
Department of Regulatory Agencies Executive Director Barbara Kelley, who chaired the group, said the recommendations are “designed to create a coordinated system that will require homeowners to share in the burden of the risk and to promote changed behaviors through a combination of legal requirements, increased awareness, and incentives.”
Hickenlooper created the task force in January.
Kelley said how much homeowners are charged will depend on what mitigation efforts counties choose to adopt. The report noted that these types of fees are not unusual, using California as an example. The state recently passed legislation requiring rural residents to pay a $150 annual firefighting fee, the report said. Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington also have fees, according to the report.
In Colorado, historic wildfire seasons these last two summers have brought more attention to how to mitigate and prevent big fires. The creation of the group came six months after the destructive Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs, which burned 346 homes and 28 square miles. This summer, another massive wildfire hit Colorado Springs. Called the Black Forest Fire, it destroyed nearly 500 homes and burned 22 square miles.
Lawmakers have also taken notice. Earlier this year, legislators passed a series of new laws, including tax incentives for homeowners to conduct fire mitigation on their property.
Hickenlooper said people who choose to live in forested areas need to understand the risks and conduct appropriate mitigation.
“Homeowners have to share some of that responsibility,” he said.
Colorado lawmakers and local officials will now work to determine what to do with the recommendations.
“We recognize that some of the recommendations will be costly and difficult to implement,” Kelley said.
With a statewide building standard, the group said it could be mandatory and implemented by local governments, or voluntary but with state funding connected to participation.
“I think the state has a role to play here, but so do local governments,” Hickenlooper said about the recommendations.
The mayor of Colorado Springs said the two wildfires last year could’ve been much worse if city officials had not worked with residents during the last 14 years to educate them on fire mitigation and creating defensible space on their properties. He said the city recently enacted an ordinance requiring people rebuilding homes or building new homes in high-risk fire areas to install ignition-resistant materials and conduct mitigation on their landscaping.