May Resiliency Conversation: May is Wildfire Awareness Month

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Plume of smoke from a wildfire behind a forested ridge

 

Although natural wildfires are crucial to the regeneration of grasslands and forestlands, 85% of wildfires, including some of the most damaging ones in Colorado’s history, have been caused by humans, either intentionally or by accident. Long-term drought, low humidity, large scale invasive insect infestations, and historical over-suppression of fires (resulting in an abundance of understory fuels) have resulted in more frequent, intense, and destructive fires. Four out of the top five largest wildfires in Colorado have occurred in the past six years.

The Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) found that approximately 2.9 million people (just under half of all Coloradans) live in the wildland-urban interface (WUI). As the state’s population continues to grow and is expected to increase by 41-70% by 2050, more people live (and will live) in fire-prone areas than ever before. Approximately 2,400 wildfires are estimated to occur across Colorado every single year. Without mitigation efforts and actions to slow the rate of climate change, the damage from wildfires to buildings and the cost of fire suppression alone is anticipated to cost the state $440 million annually by 2050.

Land use considerations that address hazards such as wildfire can help reduce risk in Colorado communities. Earlier in May, the CRO hosted a course (MGT 474) for local planners focusing on land use solutions to mitigate hazards, which was inspired by the Planning for Hazards: Land Use Solutions for Colorado guidance.

Understanding and monitoring your community’s risk and impacts of wildfire can provide a clearer picture of how to adapt to this new reality. 

Did You Know?

There are many resources available to local governments to support fire adapted communities

  • The Division of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC) released their annual Wildfire Preparedness Plan for 2024. The Plan is part of a holistic, comprehensive approach to wildfire management that includes suppression and response, fuels and forest management, and mitigation activities of all types. The Plan outlines the State’s responsibilities and resources for local governments and implements new tools and capacities as a result of recommendations of the Colorado Fire Commission and support from the Governor’s Office and the Colorado General Assembly.
  • With the passage of SB23-214 in 2023, the DFPC received additional funding to expand its Community Risk Reduction Unit. This team assists local fire departments in conducting community risk assessments, analyzing both emergency calls and the demographics of the communities they serve. These assessments prioritize risk reduction efforts, optimizing resource allocation and outreach to vulnerable populations.
  • The Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) offers an interactive tool, Colorado Wildfire Risk Viewer, that provides a comprehensive view of wildfire risk and local fire history, and educates users about wildfire prevention and mitigation resources available from the CSFS.
  • The nonprofit, Fire Adapted Colorado, offers a Community Navigator Program. These Navigators support community-based partners to access federal funding opportunities, create partnerships, and build capacity for wildfire risk mitigation and climate resilience.
  • Planning for recovery before a wildfire happens can make recovery easier. The CRO Wildfire Recovery page provides recovery resources for local governments, individuals, and businesses. 
  • For resources and outreach to individuals and homeowners within your community, CSFS offers the Live Wildfire Ready Page that includes links to wildfire preparedness funding opportunities and toolkits. 

Dive Deeper

Learn More about Resilience in Colorado

To learn more about how state agencies are working together to strengthen resiliency across Colorado, and how the Colorado Resiliency Office is facilitating strategic action, please visit the Colorado Resiliency Office's website.