Boulder firefighters minimizing fire danger for people who live nearby

During a prescribed burn, firefighters burn brush and weeds that could fuel fires spreading through the area

In part of Boulder, the air was a little smokier.

Small fires were burning near the city's Shanahan Ridge neighborhood. However, the fires were intentionally set by Boulder Fire Rescue to potentially save residents' lives.

During a prescribed burn, firefighters burn brush and weeds that could fuel fires spreading through the area. It’s a mitigation technique used by fire agencies across the country. The main reason firefighters in Boulder do it though is to better protect the people who live nearby.

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“With more people living in the area, it becomes more of a hazard,” Mike Smith of Boulder Fire Rescue said. “When those fires get large and there is a home nearby, there’s going to be a problem.”

This is a problem Smith and his team saw firsthand during the spring when hundreds of homes were evacuated because of a wildfire that burned more than 74 acres in Sunshine Canyon.

“The Sunshine Fire had the potential to be just like Northern California,” Smith said. “We had fire that was moving towards the city, we had a terrible forecast from the weather, red flag conditions, high winds.”

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When homes are nearby, there are other factors that could make a fire like that even worse.

Michael Kodas is the deputy director of the Center for Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Part of his work includes conducting research of people who could be in harm’s way.

“Between 2000 and 2010, about 100,000 people in Colorado moved into our most flammable forests,” Kodas said. “In Colorado, it’s about one in four or one in five households that are at risk of being burned during a wildfire.”

The prescribed burns will hopefully lessen the risk, but firefighters’ work is only half of the job. It’s up to residents who live nearby to maintain their own properties, according to Boulder Fire Rescue, which is where the city’s “private-public partnership” comes in.

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That basically means that residents share the responsibility of protecting their homes by doing things like keeping their gutters clear of flammable debris and keeping defensible space around the house.

To learn more about how you can your home more resistant to wildfires, click here.