Stronger Building Codes And Other Rules Can Save Homes From Wildfires. So Why Doesn’t Colorado Have A Statewide Law Mandating Them?

26 January 2021

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USA – When the East Troublesome fire hurtled towards Matthew Reed-Tolonen’s Grand Lake home last October, he made sure to lock up his family’s fireproof safes before they evacuated.

“That was like the marriage license, birth certificates, all that kind of stuff,” Reed-Tolonen said. “I thought I was good. I was like, ‘All right, it’s closed.’ And this is an expensive safe, we’re good. It didn’t do anything, just ash.”

Hundreds of Colorado homeowners now face the tough choice of whether or not to rebuild after last year’s historic wildfires ripped through mountain communities like Grand Lake. For Reed-Tolonen, rebuilding was never a question. He and his wife grew up in the area, and they got engaged on the empty lot where their mountain home would eventually be.

“I’m kind of bummed out that it’s a question for so many people,” Reed-Tolonen said. “I get people are nervous because they had their dream home for so many years and it’s gone. But maybe that’s why it’s so much easier for us. We just got into ours.”

Their home stood for less than a year.

To better prepare their new home for a future disaster, as climate change fuels more fires that are bigger and more destructive, Reed-Tolonen said he’ll likely keep trees further away from the structure. He’ll also rebuild with metal wainscoting four-feet up on the house’s exterior.

“Other than that, it’s going to be wood siding again,” he said.

There are other siding materials that are more resistant to wildfire like brick, stucco and cement-fiber.

But unlike in California, there are no statewide laws in Colorado that require people like Reed-Tolonen to build with certain materials or mandate how they manage their land.

Thoughtful changes to both can greatly increase the chances of a home surviving a wildfire, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

“There are many layers of difficulty with doing something like that,” said Lisa Dale, a lecturer at Columbia University in the sustainable development program.

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