DENVER - A new study by the University of Colorado-Denver finds that Colorado has some of the softest rules when it comes to wildfire safety.
The finding comes at a time when the state is re-thinking how it reduces danger in forest neighborhoods, still reeling from the destruction a second fire season.
Colorado's running list of deadly fires took the lives of eight people this year and last, destroying more than 1,000 homes.
This year's Black Forest Fire destroyed nearly 500 homes, becoming the single most destructive fire in state history in terms of property damage.
To protect neighborhoods, fire managers preach defensible space, which homeowners can create by clearing vegetation from buildings.
However, treatment only works if it's applied to entire neighborhoods and the forest around them.
"If you have half of the members of the community who are doing everything they can to mitigate against wildfire, and the other half could care less, you're all going to go up in flames if a big fire comes," said Lloyd Burton, author of the CU Denver study.
Burton's study found that western states approach that problem differently.
He found that California and Oregon have the strongest laws. They have statewide fire standards that can be enforced on homeowners.
Colorado is in the group of states with the softest laws. We leave the option to set and enforce fire prevention rules up to local government.
That same model is used in New Mexico and Arizona, where 19 firefighters died this year.
"Nearly all the civilian and firefighter fatalities have occurred in local option states," the study concluded.
That doesn't translate into an effort to toss out the concept of local control in Colorado.
"I don't think it's necessary for the state to come in and say we're going to impose one building code on the entire state," said Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado.)
Hickenlooper has consistently said he doesn't want to take authority away from local governments, but a wildfire task force he formed is thinking about writing statewide standards.
It seems almost certain those standards will be optional.
"My bias is that we should deliver best practices to the counties, and that commission is a great place to figure out what is a carrot, what is a stick," Hickenlooper said.
That middle ground "carrot and stick" approach would make Colorado more like Utah and Nevada, which have had success with fire standards that aren't forced on people, but encouraged with strong incentives.
Colorado is mulling options that vary from financial incentives to encourage homeowners to clean up vegetation on their properties-to liability for the cost of firefighting on properties that haven't been improved to standards.
"It's all a question of what we call the body politic," Burton said. "What do we and do we not want government to do on our behalf?"
As of yet, it's unclear what exact changes Colorado is willing to make, but the conversation is underway and it could lead to new laws next year.
The governor's wildfire task force will hold its next meeting on July 29, which should be one of its last before submitting recommendations for changes to state laws and recommendations.
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