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Wildfire. 2 Dead. 473 Homes Destroyed. It didn’t have to happen.

Black Forest

The most destructive fire in Colorado’s history is still burning.

It has already killed two people and burned down more than 473 homes, mostly in the suburban town of Black Forest, Colorado.

That’s a shame.

This fire should be a national embarrassment.  There’s absolutely no reason that this event should have been this bad, with two people dead and nearly 500 expensive homes burnt to the ground.

This wasn’t a poor community.  The homeowners and the community had the resources to prevent this without outside financial support.

Black Forest

This is simply a disaster due an inability to think resiliently, at every level.

  • Pernicious government regulations that outlaw basic rainwater harvesting and promote unsafe home and landscape design.
  • Corporations that spend billions marketing dysfunctional, but profitable, homes that turn us into dependent victims.
  • Individual homeowners, who were unwilling to take responsibility to make their property resilient to disaster (and thereby threatening the lives and property of everyone else in the community).

As bad as this is, it gets worse.

Even the people that did take responsibility and took action didn’t do the right thing.   They simply didn’t know how.  Take Nigel Thompson for example.  He and his family live in the Black Forest community.

After last year’s massive fire, Nigel decided to take action to protect his home.  To prepare, Nigel cut down 20 trees near his home to create a firebreak.  He also spent a small fortune on a new roof of fire retardant tiles.  Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, this didn’t work.  His home burned to the ground.

A simple resilient approach to preventing this type of disaster starts with the effective management of water.

Colorado gets more than enough rainwater, even now, to support the development of a vibrant, living forest environment.  The problem is that 97% of the rain that falls onto the ground in Colorado evaporates before it makes it to a major waterway.  Due to regulations that prevent actively harvesting it, much of that opportunity is simply wasted.

That error can be corrected.  Simple measures (for details, see my report on Water Abundance), at both the home and community level can turn homes and their associated landscapes into powerful allies in the fight against wildfires.

For example, changes to home and neighborhood landscapes (from swales to hugelkultur) as well as proper cover crops could easily be added at scales that would have created community wide conditions (higher humidity, lower temperatures, and green plants) that are much less likely to support the spread of a wildfire.

Active rainwater harvesting from the rooftop, if it was allowed, would have enabled even more positive changes to the system.  There’s lots more.

Unfortunately, none of this happened, antiquated thinking prevailed, and disaster ensued.

Sincerely,

 

JOHN ROBB

JR

PS:  Don’t know where to begin?  Let me help you.  At a minimum, sign up for this free letter, so you don’t miss anything.  If you are ready for more responsibility, join me and thousands of others as a member of Resilient Strategies.  You won’t regret it.

 

 

 

 

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • The policies restricting the gathering of water from rooftops contribute only 3% (100%-97% lost to evaporation) of .005% (US land area covered by rooftops) to the water supply. An increase of 0.03*0.005 = 0.00015 or 0.015% in the general water supply is the motivation for abridging one of the most basic individual property rights imaginable — the right to rain water — in one of the leading countries supporting individual property rights?

    I don’t think so.

    This seems to go way beyond stupidity or insanity.

    What’s _really_ going on here?

    • John Robb

      Exactly! The Colorado water rights saga is completely nuts.

      JR

    • Gyan Millar

      Precisely. No one has the right to tell anyone what to do with water that falls from the sky anymore than what to do with the air that is available to breathe. When did this insanity begin ? Imagine our forefathers being told this in their time. They would be outraged, and I can hear them turning in their graves right now !

    • Clint

      The increase is actually smaller, as you missed a couple of zeroes in your calculation: 3% * 0.005% = 0.03 * 0.00005 = 0.0000015 = 0.00015%. The state’s gain in total water supply is literally just a drop in the bucket.

  • Jennifer Smith

    I work in Monument but am away while I attend school. Watching the footage of the raging inferno eating up homes, I was absolutely floored by the devastation.

    There really needs to be some tight regulations put into place to protect these Colorado homes from fire, especially considering how vulnerable the area is to accidental or intentional fire.

    Some thoughts came to mind. In addition to water harvesting, what about fire-proofing by enforcing a xeriscape perimeter around the home? This seemed to be largely a ground fire. What about building the homes with different materials, like brick?

    I know hindsight is 20/20, but we’re only a year out since Waldo Canyon. This could happen again and again.

    • John Robb

      Jennifer,

      Completely agree. We can expect this to occur much more often in the future.

      Fortunately, there are so many simple ways to fix this.

      JR

      PS: My brother lives in Monument and was in the “pre-evacuation” zone until yesterday.

  • SithRose

    Houses with yards full of bone-dry mulch. Houses with brush and trees backed up to the house. No evacuation drills, no managed burns. A forest full of beetle-killed trees and antiquated forestry rules preventing natural burns. Drought conditions. The city should have been doing this math years ago and preparing for a major fire near the Springs. They should have learned from the Hayman Fire.

    This has been coming for 30 years. 20 years ago I stood on the side of a mountain, looked at the Front Range, and said “That’s a tinderbox and a disaster waiting to happen.” It’s only gotten worse since then and people have moved further into the burn zones. It’s not JUST the water situation, though that’s contributing significantly to why it’s happening right now. It’s lack of education, and frankly, after last year someone living in an arid forest zone who *didn’t* do all of the home protection precautions they recommended LAST YEAR has very little grounds for complaint – The firefighters triage houses, and that’s partially based on how defensible the house IS. If it’s not defensible, they are going to move on to the next house that they can effectively protect. And all of those precautions won’t do a bit of good if it becomes a crown fire.

    The majority of the destroyed houses are in areas where the fire crowned. In one respect, the Black Forest was very, very lucky – the fire stayed as a ground fire in a lot of areas, without getting into the trees. That’s good both for the on-going health of the forest AND for the ability of the firefighters to protect homes.

    It’s not a question of *if* the next fire is going to hit. It’s a question of when and where. And homeowners need to listen, get up, and prepare their houses. (And the ridiculous prohibition against collecting rainwater needs to go, because that’s just silly.)

  • Peter Wadham

    Suggest that you look at how they do things in Australia. They have some wicked bush fires there. They know how to build houses to survive fires and are doing research all the time. They also have researched yard and garden planting for the prevention of fire. this would be a good place to start http://earthgarden.com.au/portal/forum/index.php. They were experimenting in South Australia when I lived there with rain water tanks connected to petrol driven pumps and irrigation systems around the roof of the house. I don’t know what became of it as I moved back to NZ.

  • Michael

    Defensible Space
    Defensible space is essential to improve your home’s chance of surviving a wildfire. It’s the buffer you create between a building on your property and the grass, trees, shrubs, or any wildland area that surround it.

    http://www.readyforwildfire.org/defensible_space

  • Stealth Spaniel

    So much of the antiquated rules go back to a smaller population and a population willing to put up with the elites telling them that the government owns rainwater. I also blame “the environmentalists” who for decades have forced decisions based on emotions and feelings rather than reality. It is time for all of us to stand up for resilient communities and science based regulations. Everytime I see a fire in Colorado, I cringe, knowing that California is on the same pathway. I live in the Sierras, in a rural, farm type area that is close to several cities. The “all natural” landscaping will go up in a heartbeat by the end of June. People cannot imagine losing water access to douse a fire. Everyone is on the bandwagon to save the California Oaks, but those same trees by August will explode with any flames. My frustration is palpable with the naturalists.
    My dream home? A concrete dome home that require no roof tiles at all. Add steel clad doors and shatterproof windows and your insurance and stress just dropped by 90 points. But no, everyone wants the log cabin in the woods-waiting to burn.

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