Udall Announces Findings of Fourmile Canyon Fire Study
Asked For Report Last Year to Help CO Homeowners and Land Managers Learn from the Disaster
Today, Mark Udall announced that preliminary findings are available from a scientific study on the 2010 Fourmile Canyon fire in Boulder County. The U.S. Forest Service report, which was conducted at Udall's request, lays out the factors that influenced the most expensive fire in Colorado history so that our government agencies and homeowners can better prepare for future fire emergencies.
After touring the site of the fire last year, Udall was struck by the intensity of the fire and how indiscriminately it hit homes and buildings: some structures were spared while others - sometimes right next door - were completely destroyed. He asked U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and then-Governor Bill Ritter to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the fire, and the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station assembled an expert team to conduct the study.
"When news about the Fourmile Canyon fire started coming in, I was first thankful that no lives had been lost, and then I wanted to know how we could learn from this tragedy. We had a chance to study the things that went wrong - and what was done right - to ensure that we can react better to future wildfires," Udall said. "This fire taught us that the most important yard tool you can have if you live in a wildfire-prone area is not a chainsaw; it's a rake and a weed-whacker. This won't always protect your home from wildfire - some Fourmile Fire homeowners worked hard to create defensible space and still lost their homes - but it's a concrete step that can make a huge difference. We all have a role to play in fighting wildfire."
Foremost among Udall's concerns is that homeowners be aware as soon as possible that their individual actions are the single most important factor in protecting themselves from a catastrophic wildfire. The researchers found that the condition of the Home Ignition Zone - the design, materials and the maintenance of the home and the area 100 feet around it - was critical to whether a home survived the Fourmile Canyon Fire. Adobe and non-wood homes where homeowners had removed flammable ground material (like pine needles, grass and even wooden decks) were likelier to survive.
A peer-reviewed study is scheduled to be released in January; read the preliminary report at www.fs.fed.us/rmrs.
Additional noteworthy findings include:
- Because of extreme weather conditions, this fire spread fast and burned very intensely. The first day of the fire had exceptionally low relative humidity coupled with high wind conditions - extreme, but not uncommon for the Front Range, so we must be prepared for more of these types of fires.
- The researchers found that our fire responders' efforts were very well-executed. No lives were lost even though it was a fast-moving and very dramatic fire in one of the most densely developed areas of the foothills. They also found that air tankers were used very effectively. While high winds kept them grounded most of the first day, the tankers were in the air as soon as winds died down and dropped a total of 86 loads of retardant (174,149 gallons).
- Fuels reduction is a critical tool that helps to reduce wildfire risk, keep forests healthy and protect our water supplies. Udall wants to ensure that we are spending resources effectively by treating large areas and clearing trimmed trees and brush off the ground after a treatment. When done correctly, prescribed fire is a safe and effective tool, even near communities, and Udall hopes to see it used even more. He invited the research team to come back and meet with federal and state land managers and local officials to understand this issue better.
- In addition, he hopes to continue creating markets for Colorado wood products such as lumber that can be used in construction and woody biomass for clean energy.
In April, Udall met with numerous community members while volunteering for a restoration project to reseed burned areas and help impacted families recover their community. Because of the prevalence of fires in Colorado, Udall has made it one of his priorities to protect Colorado communities from wildfire, building awareness in Washington, D.C., to recognize the hazards of the bark beetles that have turned millions of acres of forest into dead and dying fuel for fire. At a Senate hearing earlier this year, he sought to clarify federal efforts to help Coloradans fight wildfires and, in July, he pushed through the Senate a bipartisan resolution to recognize firefighters' heroic work.