As we approach the summer season we have so much to love about living in the mountains. However, this is also the time of year that we need to be cognizant of the potential for wildfires and the destruction they can bring. Wildfire mitigation is one of the topics that tends to be misunderstood, and oftentimes ignored until a fire danger is imminent. It is important for several reasons, even for residents living in-town. Ultimately, living in a mountainous area comes with an increase in fire risk. The trees, brush and slopes aid the rapidly-spreading capabilities of fire and threaten homes if left untended.
Additionally, wildfire mitigation impacts homeowners insurance. The amount of wildfire mitigation completed on a home is factored into insurance qualification. When buying or selling a home, wildfire mitigation becomes a substantial topic. Buyers must consider homeowners insurance, and sellers should consider the insurance impact on potential buyers, and lower those costs by completing wildfire mitigation.
The ultimate question becomes: how do homeowners conduct wildfire mitigation, and what must be changed? While many opinions exist on this topic, there are a few basics to consider. Primarily, homeowners should consider the surroundings of their homes, and create a defensible space. An ember shower can cause a fire up to a mile away. The roof and immediate surroundings of the home should not have any fuel sources.
Most experts look at a home in three rings. The first 30 feet around a home should be void of fuel sources. This means there should be no firewood, low-hanging branches, dead vegetation/pine needles, or other ground fuel. The next radius encompasses the 30-75/100 feet from the home. In this area, trees should be heavily spaced and fuel breaks (gravel paths, driveways) should break the area. Trees should be pruned (or limbed up) 6-10 feet off the ground. The final radius focuses on the next 100-200 feet from the house, and is somewhat location specific. The area should be thinned from thick tree clusters, and potentially smaller trees should be removed when growing between larger trees. (See below links for additional details and suggestions).
In regards to homeowners insurance, Jim Duresky, a local insurance agent, notes three key areas in order to anticipate whether a home is acceptable to an insurance company: 1) Access to the house (can a fire truck access the home and have mobility in the area?), 2) the slope and elevation change within a quarter mile of the home (this is considered because fire travels quickly uphill), and 3) fuel sources around a home, as mentioned above. Many insurance companies are requiring a re-inspection program where agents are required to go to homes to re-inspect previously insured homes and properties. As original landscaping grows, the fire danger becomes more imminent, even for in-town homes. He suggests a fire mitigation inspection prior to buying and selling homes, in order to anticipate whether the home is acceptable to an insurance company.
I recently acquired a property in Edgemont Ranch that has central water and sewer, and the insurance company (not Jim Duresky!) terminated my insurance after a wildfire inspection. We have mitigated the issues and have now resolved them, but it shows how much insurance is changing.
Clearly, wildfire mitigation is important if a fire does occur. Many of us remember the Missionary Ridge fire in 2002. While we hope another fire of that scope does not occur in the Durango area, thorough preparation will minimize losses. It will also impact the homeowners insurance rates as re-inspection occurs. All homeowners desire the peace of mind that accompanies a well-prepared property against wildfires.
See the below links for information resources on fire mitigation.