News 5 Investigates

Jan 24, 2014 12:27 AM by Eric Ross

News 5 Guardians: Report questions mitigation efforts in Black Forest

A new report released Thursday by the Pikes Peak Wildfire Prevention Partners says Black Forest residents did not do enough to mitigate their properties prior to the fire.

The 100-page audit details the fatal flaws needing to be addressed as we brace for yet another fire season. The investigators involved with the report do not want the audit to become a "political football" where one person blames the other about what could have been done better. Instead, they want to bring attention to an issue very few thought about until it was simply too late.

"The fire traveled 7.5 miles in the first 5 hours," Larkspur Fire Marshal Randy Johnson said.

Johnson is the president of the PPWPP and remembers the afternoon of June 12 as if it happened yesterday.

"You see the level of damage and I just get the chills when I come back here," he said.

486 homes were destroyed and more than 14,000 acres burned. After several homeowners claimed mitigation efforts didn't work, Gov. John Hickenlooper asked forestry expert Keith Worley and his team with the PPWPP to look into those claims.

"We found that mitigation was not adequate," he said.

In fact, the Cathedral Pines community was the only area praised for mitigation efforts. Despite the fire burning through two-thirds of the neighborhood, only one home was lost.

As a general rule, it's recommended homeowners have at least a 10 foot gap between the crowns of every tree. One of the biggest obstacles for firefighters is battling the blaze after it spreads into the canopy.

"When we come into an environment as firefighters and we can't go to work or we suffer the potential for entrapment because somebody didn't clean up their property, it's just not right," Johnson said.

Ideally, residents need to create an imaginary 360-degree mitigation shield around their property. There should be a 100-foot radius between your home and any overgrown trees.

A 200 foot radius is ideal, but 300 feet is recommended.

Gov. Hickenlooper highlighted 8 bills that will be addressed this year pertaining to mitigation and restoration efforts.

So far, 11 wildfire related bills have been introduced to the Colorado General Assembly:

• HB 1001: Would create an income tax credit for people whose property was destroy by a natural disaster

• HB 1003: Would exempt non-Coloradan disaster relief workers from having to pay Colorado income tax on money earned while responding to disasters in Colorado.

• HB 1004: Would eliminate the Colorado Emergency Planning Commission and shift responsibilities to the Division of Fire Prevention and Control. It would also give Gov. Hickenlooper the ability to provide financial assistance without a federal declaration of disaster.

• HB 1007: Would permit county governments to ban open fires to reduce the danger of wildfires and also ban fireworks - even between May 31 and July 5, a time period that was previously blocked out.

• HB 1008: Would allow the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority to approve loans to private entities for forest health projects.

• HB 1009: Would alter the wildfire mitigation tax deduction to an income tax credit worth half of what homeowners spend on mitigation up to $2,500.

• HB 1010: Would make corrections to prescribed burning laws passed during the 2013 session, including a reduction in who is qualified to "attend to a burn."

• SB 008: Would start a Wildfire Information and Resource Center, a state website that would provide fire related information to the public

• SB 45: Would make the fire chief responsible for enlisting county assistance when fires exceed the capabilities of the fire protection district, and places the sheriff as principal coordinator of federal, state, or local response to wildfire.

• SB 46: Would create a $3.25 million local firefighter safety fund to reimburse local fire districts and departments for safety training and equipment.

• SB 47: Would create a $10,000 death benefit for survivors of seasonal wildfire firefighters who are killed in the line of duty.

 

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