Colorado Leaders Start Conversation About Fire-Resistant Building Codes – CBS Denver

SUPERIOR, Colorado (CBS4) The Marshall Fire is starting a new conversation about building greater fire resistance in homes. In Upper Old Town, owner Brian Dugan shoveled a boardwalk past the tiny homes he was renting.

“One, two and three. Behind number two, that one burned,” he said.

The others were still standing, survivors of a fiery game of Russian roulette, where one house would burn and another would survive.

(credit: CBS)

“It was of course very unexpected, that the fires would come this far. Create so much damage this far,” he said.

Old Town Superior is a wreckage of destroyed homes. This is evidence of the ability of wildfires to spread through urban areas, but even in known fire zones, Colorado does not have standardized fire prevention building codes nationwide. the state.

“We’re actually looking at many western states to say what the best practices are, what might work for different states,” said Michele Steinberg, director of the wildfire division at the National Fire Protection Association. “We know that there have been very strong scientific guidelines and standards for many years on how to build safely against wildfires.”

Wildfires are now a risk in Colorado comparable to people living in floodplains or hurricane-prone areas where building requirements are more stringent.

“I think we need to start thinking about wildfires when they affect our built environment, the same way we think about hurricanes, floods, earthquakes,” Steinberg said.

This could mean a variety of criteria, including the site itself.

“So that you don’t get grass, you know, large amounts of vegetation, you know, making sure there’s some level of space.”

In addition, fire-resistant roofing and siding, as well as a double-glazed window and at least six inches of noncombustible material at the bottom of an exterior wall, as well as air vents to prevent embers from entering the vents.

Steinberg knows this is a big change.

“There’s been a lot of open arms for things like voluntary effort and a lot less reception for the notion of regulation and that includes the use of building codes and land use standards that would somehow alter where we build in how we build,” he said.

During the 2013–14 legislative session, Colorado lawmakers considered suggestions to create statewide codes.

“At that time, you know, in 2014, we had what we called a wildfire season and shoulders of wildfires at each end of the season. Now it looks like the wildfire season could last all year,” said Jeanne Nicholson, a former state senator who chaired a committee that produced a report on firefighting and mitigation. of their effects.

Calwood Fire burn scar (Credit: CBS)

Several bills came out of committee and passed successfully, but not one on the statewide guidelines. Nicholson of Gilpin County had a district that included parts of now burned Superior.

“Part of the reason I wasn’t in favor of something statewide at the time was that I didn’t think the risk was the same across the state. It made sense. for me that we apply these requirements to parts of the state that were vulnerable.”

Nicholson now believes differently.

“Now, seven years later, I think Mother Nature is telling us the whole state could be in danger,” he said.

Of the more than 1,000 homes lost in the Marshall Fire, rebuilding is perhaps one of the toughest. Many houses were old and from a different era in terms of building practices and building materials.

“Insurance gives me $216,000 to do it,” Dugan said. “I don’t know if I can do it with this.”

Construction costs have risen steadily during the pandemic. Steinberg says they looked at the costs, finding when there were consistent standards builders able to contain the costs.

“I believe the baseline standards that build you a safer home are very reasonable. They are cost effective because they use typical materials.

Dugan says it looks like stricter fire standards might make sense if the cost is contained.

“As long as it’s not too costly, I think people will probably step in and say yes, let’s do something more.”

The key, according to Steinberg, may be to set a standard, but to allow local governments to implement it where.

“If local governments can determine those high-risk areas or the most important areas for them to protect and enforce the standards there, I think that’s a good combination.”

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