Take a drive in Evergreen, Conifer or Pine and you’ll easily see how the majestic views, mountain lifestyle and nearby trails continue to attract many to our area. Driving along these narrow back roads also make the area’s fire risk quickly evident. Heavily forested areas and steep terrain combined with increasingly dry conditions all contribute to high-fire risk. These factors and others make fast-moving wildfires harder to contain and require us to think in new ways about growth, development and forest health – issues not limited to Jefferson County, either.
As population and development grow in the wildland-urban interface, or WUI, our vulnerability to wildfire risk increases across Colorado. Data show America’s WUI continues to increase by about 2 million acres per year. More than two-thirds of Jefferson County is in the WUI. Verisk’s wildfire analysis has determined that Colorado ranks number three in the number of properties at extreme risk, with Evergreen and Conifer leading the list statewide.
There is no single, quick solution to extinguish wildfire risk and it requires all of us doing our part. That’s why we are taking a collaborative, comprehensive approach. We work closely with community members, fire chiefs, the Jeffco Sheriff’s Office, Jeffco Emergency Management, Jeffco Open Space, Jeffco Planning and Zoning, Jeffco Road and Bridge, forest health managers and water experts on multiple fronts.
Commissioners recently earmarked $2.7 million in American Rescue Plan dollars to protect homes from wildfires in Jefferson County. We’ll leverage those funds with a new state grant totaling $2 million from the Colorado Strategic Wildfire Action Program. Jefferson County is one of only a handful of counties to receive this funding. These dollars and others totaling $7.5 million will advance our Jeffco Wildfire Safe program to:
Several of these recommendations came directly from the county’s first ever Wildfire Risk Reduction Task Force. Community leaders and subject matter experts from across the county worked together to identify three priority areas: enhancing the pace and scale of mitigation, increasing community education, and securing new revenue sources to reduce wildfire risk. The task force has now evolved into the Wildfire Commission, which will continue to inform countywide policies and track progress.
These efforts are in addition to policies approved earlier this year that require anyone requesting a building permit in the WUI for new homes or home expansions to show proof of defensible space and use ignition-resistant materials. To help meet the need, Jeffco has hired a fire mitigation specialist to work with property owners to address defensible space. Jeffco Open Space is improving forest health on 1,000 acres of land by significantly thinning dense tree stands – a seven-fold increase over previous years. County staff also worked on a memorandum of understanding to partner with Evergreen Fire Rescue for mitigation of fire risks within county right-of-way.
Plus, Jeffco has proposed access standards for driveways, private roads and unimproved roads in public right-of-way that will accommodate fire trucks, safe ingress and egress but that do not require fire district review. Requirements include 10-foot clear zones on both sides of the access on the property.
Being prepared for an emergency is critical for every resident. During a wildfire, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office works with your local fire departments to safely get people out of harm’s way. But don’t wait for someone to come save you. Visit the Be Your Own Hero web page to learn more about this program from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office on protecting your life and property. Jeffco residents also should register for LookoutAlert to receive emergency notifications.
We are not only tackling wildfire at a county level but partnering with our state and national leaders. Commissioner Dahlkemper serves as one of two county commissioners representing the interests of counties on the Colorado Fire Commission. Later this month, Jeffco leaders will present our wildfire risk reduction efforts at the invitation of the National Association of Counties at its annual national conference.
Together, we’re seeking collaborative solutions to keep Jeffco safe from wildfire and protect our lands for generations to come. We recognize there’s much more work ahead. As the county faces financial challenges, we’ll continue to proactively pursue federal and state grants and other funding that help keep our community safe.
Board of County CommissionersAndy, Tracy and Lesley
Commissioners can be reached at [email protected] or individually at [email protected], [email protected] and [email protected].