DougCo updates wildfire plan due to growth

Mike McKibbin

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A map in the Douglas County 2011 Community Wildfire Protection Plan identifies areas where wildfire risk was present.Douglas County

By Mike McKibbin/NewsBreak Denver

[DOUGLAS COUNTY, CO] With wildfires now a year-round occurrence, fast-growing Douglas County has started updating its 11-year-old plan to help mitigate the often-disastrous events.

In 2009, state lawmakers passed a bill that required counties to complete community wildfire protection plans.

Senior Wildfire Mitigation Specialist Jill Welle said this is the first time the county has updated the plan since its adoption in 2011. She noted the county had seen a lot of growth since then along I-25 and to the east and west.

The U.S. Census estimated the county's 2010 population at 293,521. That compares to 368,990 in 2021, a difference of 75,469 new residents.

Communities ranked for fire risk

In the 2011 plan, a hazard ranking process identified 102 communities with extreme, very high, high, moderate or mixed wildfire risk.

Four communities were rated extreme: Jackson/Dakan in the Jackson 105 Fire Protection District, Woodmoor Mountain in the Larkspur district, Elephant Rock and Sprucewood/Moonridge in the West Douglas County district. To see a list of all communities and their fire risk, visit the county website and click on "introduction."

The 2011 plan also noted that areas developed 30 to 40 years earlier were likely at higher wildfire risk due to less vegetation management, such as defensible space.

Welle said some residents of wildland-urban interface areas are doing what's needed to mitigate risk, "others are at different stages."

Structures in these areas also used wood shake roofing and combustible siding material. Today, zoning often requires more fire-resistive building materials like stucco, stone and cement siding.

The county created its plan to help localized areas develop their plans. Welle said she wasn't sure how many individual plans grew out of the county's plan.

"We did have strong pursuit of those individual plans after we adopted this one," she added. "A lot of the information in those plans is much the same as the county plan, it's just how it's targeted."

Commissioner Abe Laydon said that when the disastrous Marshall fire in Boulder County occurred in late December, it illustrated the need to update its wildfire mitigation plan.

"So we wanted to know where the update for Douglas County's plan was at and I wanted to make sure it would be more than a study," Laydon said. "I wanted to make sure we had an impactful plan."

County requires developers to mitigate

Begun in 1994, the county wildfire mitigation program consists of regulations such as development review, education and outreach and natural resources consulting. Welle said she conducted over 60 free mitigation assessments of individual properties last year.

The 2011 plan noted its wildfire overlay district placed more responsibility on the developer for mitigating hazards through hazardous fuels reduction instead of the property purchaser after the project was completed.

Laydon added the county's comprehensive master plan addresses possible conditions for developments near wildland-urban interface areas. He said that includes educating residents about the best types of building materials to help protect a structure from fire.

Laydon pointed to a recent $1.3 million contract with Trans Aero for 153 days — between June 1 and Oct. 31 — of exclusive use of a type 2 helicopter capable of delivering 300 gallons of water as a new firefighting tool.

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A map from the 2011 Douglas County Community Wildfire Protection Plan identifies areas with invidivualized versions of the plan.Douglas County

"Douglas County has had a history of hard, heavy and fast responses to wildfires and this is another tool to help us do that," he said.

The contract is the most significant investment in aerial support in the county's history and one of the largest by local governments in Colorado.

Laydon said he also wants the county to continue talks with electric utilities about further mitigation along electric transmission lines.

"When we have a wildfire start due to a downed line and then we get these high winds, that's a significant potential for the fires to really spread," such as in the Marshall fire, he stated.

County seeks public comment for update

Residents should complete a 15-minute online survey before April 26. Around 500 residents completed surveys by mid-April.

After the comment period ends, Welle said the county would assess and analyze the data and make a draft plan recommendation to the commissioners in June. A final plan could be in place by late this summer or early fall.

Laydon said he wanted to ensure the update process included six points:

• Develop a wildfire partnership with diverse stakeholders;

• Develop and implement a public outreach strategy;

• Implement forest maintenance treatments;

• Assess and mitigate subdivision ingress/egress with county-owned parcels;

• Continue planning future forest management projects on open space and adjacent Forest Service land; and

• Legislation and funding.

Welle said having an updated plan will help the county be more competitive for federal wildfire mitigation funds.

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Mike McKibbin is an independent journalist on Colorado's Front Range and covers Douglas County for NewsBreak.

Denver, CO
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