Computers help Colorado firefighters spot problem homes

June 19, 2006

The next time a wildfire closes in on a Denver mountain home, there’s no guarantee a crew of firefighters will line up to defend it. A system of mapping and computer software, developed since the disastrous 2002 fire season, is helping authorities decide which homes to defend, and which homes they might have to sacrifice to the flames.

Fire officials are warning homeowners that computer models have helped them identify homes too vulnerable or fire prone to risk limited manpower and machinery protecting. In extreme situations, firefighters will give up some houses to save others.

“People need to start hearing this. The public needs to know there are people out there who have already identified the places that aren’t safe to go,” said Justin Dombrowski, director of emergency management for the city and county of Boulder.

New technology can alert fire crews to barriers and hazards some homes pose, with decisions based on everything from roof type to the length and angle of driveways, hidden propane tanks and overly wooded lots.

Dombrowski said homeowners should know how authorities view their houses. If their homes are on a low-priority list, there are things residents can do, such as cutting trees away from the home or installing a different kind of roof.

Bob Egizi is director of public safety for the community of Cordillera, loaded with mountainside homes nestled in the forest west of Vail. If warnings won’t spur homeowners to better protect their homes, something else might, he said.

Insurance companies, he said, are taking note of the firefighters’ new ranking system, jacking up rates or dropping coverage.

“That’s the kind of stuff that gets people’s attention,” Egizi said.

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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