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.
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 and Verisk’s wildfire analysis shows Evergreen and Conifer lead the list statewide in the number of properties at extreme risk.
There is no single, quick solution to extinguish wildfire risk. It requires a comprehensive approach – with all of us doing our part. Commissioners 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 funds totaling $8.1 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. 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, commissioners were recently briefed on 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 in the WUI include 10-foot defensible space on both sides of the driveway on the property. The standards will be brought forward for formal approval at the Board of County Commissioners’ October 4 public hearing.
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. In July, the National Association of Counties invited Commissioner Dahlkemper and Jeffco Planning & Zoning Director Chris O’Keefe to present our wildfire risk reduction efforts 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.
Article has been slightly updated since originally published as an op-ed in the Canyon Courier in July. To learn more about the Jefferson County Wildfire Commission, visit our website.
To learn more about the Jefferson County Commissioners, visit our website. The Board of County Commissioners’ public hearings are held on most Tuesdays at 8:00 a.m. and we invite you to join us for public comment. Click here for details.