2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

WESTERN WILDFIRE: Life in the red zone

Published: April 11, 2013, 2:03 pm, by Ryan Handy



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Call it what you want–the red zone, wildland urban interface, or hillside overlay–but the message is still the same: If you live there, you better be prepared.

Much of the focus of day one of Western Wildfire 2013, an international conference focusing on wildfire prevention and recovery, has been on those who chose to live in wildfire-prone zones, and how to prepare them for what experts say is inevitable–destructive wildfire.

In the past two decades, potential climate change and persistent drought have escalated the severity of wildfires across the globe, from western Canada to Australia. But, more people are moving in the interface zones that abut forests or wildfire-prone landscapes, making fires more destructive and costly when they burn through the area. The struggle to get homeowners to understand the risk and react to it by doing fire mitigation is a universal problem, said Dan Bailey, president of the International Association of Wildland fire.

As in Colorado Springs, programs like Fire Wise and Fire Adapted Communities strive to prepare homeowners for wildfire danger. A recent report praised Colorado Springs as one of the first American cities to adopt the Fire Adapted Communities program–something that made a material difference for firefighters during the Waldo Canyon fire.

But in the west, there is still plenty of urban interface land to be settled, and research shows that people are slowly starting to fill up the remaining interface space.

Headwater Economics, a Montana-based research firm, studies interface development. According to the research, El Paso County has only moderate interface development, with about 30 percent of the county’s population living in the interface.

Check out this county-by-county map of the western United States to compare El Paso with other Colorado counties. If you live in the interface, check out this map of Colorado Springs and see what your wildfire risk is.

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