BLACK FOREST — A local fire department wants to help homeowners get their properties prepared for a wildfire.
During the next few months, firefighters with Black Forest Fire Rescue plan to visit all 7,200 homes in the district and perform a rapid wildfire risk assessment for free.
The rapid assessment takes about 10 to 15 minutes to complete. Essentially, it’s a report card or scorecard to assess fire hazards and mitigation needs around the home. Numbers are added up, much like a grade, and homes will be get an overall risk rating of low, moderate, high, very high, or extreme.
Crews who are on duty take turns to perform the rapid assessments. When they’re not training or responding to calls, they set aside a couple hours every day to do the assessments.
“Black Forest, along with all of El Paso County is experiencing extreme fire danger this year, so we decided to take a proactive stance and reach out to our neighborhoods and our personnel and give them some information. Information is vital in determining what their risk may be and how they can improve on it,” said Deputy Chief James Rebitski.
Deputy Chief Rebitsky noted some of the things crews look for. They include: roofing materials, siding material, safety zones around the home, how much vegetation and how many trees are on the property, how big the driveway is, and is there easy access to the home if a fire were to happen.
“We can stand in the street, and view the house and check the boxes. Each box contains specific data that helps us assess the risk to that house,” said Rebitsky. “If the house is back in the trees, and we can't see the house, we’ll use Google Earth to take an aerial view of the home and make some of the basic assessments and then alert the homeowner.”
It’s the first year the crew is performing rapid assessments on the homes in the area. Rebitsky said it took them about six months to develop this plan.
He also said the National Weather Service's predicting a drier, hotter summer. Therefore fire danger is going to be high all summer long.
When the assessment is finished, the information is given to homeowners with hopes it can increase the chance of their home surviving a wildfire. If the homeowner is home, firefighters will also answer questions that the homeowner may have. Firefighters do not do mitigation themselves though. The assessments are for educational purposes.
Firefighters do their best to reduce fire damage during a fire or wildfire, but it’s the homeowner's responsibility to prepare first.
“That's our goal, to partner with the community as the fire department and to make our job easier, to protect the forest, and to protect the citizens that live out here,” said Rebitsky.
If a homeowners gets a poor score on a rapid assessment, crews can also give them more information on doing a Firewise assessment, which takes about an hour long. It’s more detailed and a fuller assessment of the home. Firewise assessments are offered year-round and must be requested by the home owner.
Since the rapid assessments began last week, Black Forest Fire Rescue has received more than 30 calls from homeowners for a more detailed assessment of their home.
Rebitsky also said this year, they hired four Wildland mitigation crews. Two have already been on deployed this year, and the other two start during the summer. When one team is deployed, the other team will be at the station working on mitigation projects, helping people to Firewise assessments, rapid assessments, and education efforts to help make Black Forest safer during a wildfire.