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Green Trees, Sprawl, Metal Roofs and Flaming Subdivisions

Lessons From the Colorado Fires

by GEORGE WUERTHNER

These graphic photos of the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado show clearly why it’s essential to have community wide standards for reducing home flammability in the WIldlands Urban Interface (if they are permitted to be built in the first place). Metal roofs, in particular, can go a long ways towards protecting homes.

If you look at these series of photos, you will note that it was home ignition that contributed to the loss of all the homes in this fire–not the fire itself. The fire never spread into this subdivision. Rather one home would ignite, and then burn down its neighbor in a domino fashion. I’ve seen this all over the West–the Cierra Grande Fire at Los Alamos, a number of fires I’ve visited in such as the South Tahoe area and in southern California, and other places.

You can see that there are green (i.e. unburned) trees surrounding the ashes of the homes. And the trees that are singed are burnt on the side facing the homes, indicating that the fire from the adjacent wildlands did not directly reach the homes.

It also makes clear that protecting sprawl into the wildlands is now the major cost associated with fire fighting. People should no more be permitted to build in the wildlands as in river flood plains. And if they do, at the very least, they must have effective measures to reduce flammability. It does no good to have a metal roof on your home, if your neighbor does not. The heat from the adjacent house burning will likely set your structure on fire.

George Wuerthner is the editor of Wildfire: a Century of Failed Forest Policy.