Denver, Boulder suburbs face increased wildfire risk

Local News

DENVER (KDVR) — The Marshall Fire devastation in Boulder County is serving as a wake-up call for communities up and down the Front Range. Officials are warning that residents should think about wildfires differently now.

Overall, the metro’s largest city, Denver, is generally the most insulated from the threat of wildfires. But even the far reaches of the Mile High City face risk, such as the Green Valley Ranch neighborhood. There’s wildfire danger for virtually every suburban city, including Denver’s largest suburbs. Lakewood pushes up against the foothills and Aurora continues to build into open fields.

“It’s incumbent upon us to be prepared for that risk,” Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman said.

In response to the destruction in Superior and Louisville, Coffman is preparing to learn more about what his fire department is doing in terms of fire mitigation and emergency response planning in suburban-rural interfaces.

“[We want] to understand what the risk factors are and what — not only we are doing as a city government, but what [residents] can do as individual homeowners,” Coffman said.

An Aurora Fire Rescue city council presentation is set for February.

In bone-dry conditions with hurricane-force winds, creating defensible space can only do so much. Building materials are also an important part of the wildfire prevention equation.

“Global warming, climate changes. Do we have to build more climate-resistant homes? And the answer is yes,” said University of Denver assistant professor Eric Holt, who’s an expert in construction management. “We’re going to have to build differently in the future.”

“Events like this fire are going to help make us question the type of materials we use,” Holt said.

Materials like specialized glass, masonry and even certain attic fans are important to consider, Holt explained.

“It was home-to-home ignition at a rapid pace and a grand magnitude,” West Metro Fire Rescue Capt. Brendan Finnegan said when describing the Boulder County fires.

West Metro firefighters — those with some of the most experience fighting wildland flames — are realizing that they are now up against a whole new kind of battle.

“It does make us realize that a lot of these neighborhoods are not only vulnerable, but more vulnerable than maybe we anticipated,” West Metro Capt. Dan Wenger said.

Especially in dry conditions, people should not assume suburban areas offer enough protection, officials said.

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