June 15, 2013

Don't Believe the New York Times on Wildfire Mitigation

In yesterday's New York Times, reporter Jack Healy put a negative spin on wildfire mitigation in his write-up of the Black Forest Fire (datelined Denver, oddly enough).
For years, families in Black Forest, Colo., did what they could to keep the flames at bay. They scooped up pine needles and trimmed low-hanging branches around their homes. They chopped down saplings and hauled dead trees to the community mulcher.
But when the fire came this week, hundreds of their homes still burned. 
Maybe the NYT line is "because of climate change, you're all doooooomed,"  and it creeps into this kind of reporting.

Healy interviewed one (and only one) burned-out  Black Forest resident, who said despite mitigation efforts, her family's house was lost. That is a sad thing, but it is not the whole story.

What Healy does not consider is that it's a game of percentages.

Yes, if the wind is blowing hard enough, burning embers might blow through your "defensible space," catch in a deck or under and eaves, and start a fire.

But by creating that space, you improve your chances.

Perhaps more importantly, if a firefighting crew is trying to protect structures on your road, where will they spend their limited time, at the house where much work has been done for them or at the one that would take hours to prepare?

(Some people call those latter houses "burners," as in, "Forget that one, it's a burner.")

As this interesting short video from Black Forest shows, an engine crew could easily protect a home where the trees were thinned, etc., despite one mistake on the homeowners' part.


Pagan In Paradise said...


You are correct. Defensible space is just that Defendable. In the case of a catastrophic fire where weather, fuel, temps, aspect and wind line up, homes will be lost. Most wildfires do not feature all the factors lined up that make them catastrophic.

Peter Dybing
Section Chief
Southern Area Federal IMT

Chas S. Clifton said...

Thanks, Peter.

Nancie Nelson said...

From Texas but have a cabin in Howard (off Hwy 50 between Cañon and Salida). Our property hadn't been cleared in AGES when we bought it. I was astounded to hear that the state had a grant available to anyone who needed fire mitigation. We applied, were approved and got a $1200 check towards about $3000 worth of clearing. I kept saying "But we don't live in Colorado full time" and the reply was "You are exactly who we want to reach- people who don't realize the danger and aren't there to respond." Amazingly none of my full time neighbors - who also desperately need clearing- were aware of this grant. I joke now that our wood cabin will be the only thing standing if our mountain catches fire.
And we love the cabin - and Colorado- so much that it will become our full time home this fall.