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The nuances of fire mitigation in Colorado

Fire mitigation has the power to help save a home, though that prevention isn't as realistic for every Coloradan.

DENVER — As firefighters in Colorado brace for a tough and long wildfire season, they are once again asking homeowners to take wildfire mitigation seriously.

Just last week, Elk Creek Fire Rescue said a fire burned in the Wamblee Valley Road area in Jefferson County. It was spreading through grass, timber and trees. Shifting winds and the topography did not help. 

The flames ended up burning right up against a home, but Elk Creek Fire said the homeowner did some mitigation work and that it was "absolutely helpful in preventing home ignition."

But the conversation around fire mitigation goes hand in hand with the conversation around what is affordable -- and it unveils the nuances of mitigation. 

Feasibility of more mitigation

Greg Pixley with the Denver Fire Department said that if budgets were not an issue, mitigation would go further to reduce wildfire risk.

"We would love to have the amount money for mountains to have healthier forests and those living in the mountains to be better protected if there was a fire situation," said Pixley. "But the unfortunate reality [is] there is not the amount of money we need to do what we need to protect all of our mountains." 

"Efforts to mitigate the forest, our beloved mountains, it would be astronomical in terms of pricing and amount of people it would take to perform," said Pixley.

Denver Fire has one of the largest wildland firefighting teams in the region.

But mitigation isn't as realistic in all parts of Colorado, like the Eastern Plains. Hugo Fire Protection said it's harder to ask farmers and rancher to mitigate the same land they are relying on for their income 

Chief Jess Solze said it would mean losing production and money every year, especially as drought continues to take its toll. 

So, Solze said they use roads as fire breaks, especially around land that's trickier to mitigate and individual homes and businesses work on fire protection.

Tim Johnson, with the Douglas County Office of Emergency Management, said Douglas County has been stepping up mitigation work over the last decade. It's particularly important since a large portion of the county is adjacent to the national forest, plus new developments are going in. 

There are efforts to not only mitigate county property but also work with neighborhoods, HOAs and builders to include fire mitigation as new homes and subdivisions are built. 

New funding

Wildfire threats and mitigation were discussed during the Colorado's recent legislative session. 

Lawmakers did pass a bill, now headed to Gov. Jared Polis, setting aside $10 million for grants to match what local governments are spending on mitigation work. 

Another bill passed requires notifying local fire departments before a prescribed burn so that fire departments can be on standby or present if need be, depending on fire conditions. 

There were also several other pieces of legislation that passed, including more support for firefighters, including volunteer firefighters.

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