A Colorado Springs Fire Department (CSFD) Strike Team was captured on video doing structure protection this past Wednesday on the Black Forest Fire currently burning in El Paso County, CO (an area north and east of the City of Colorado Springs). Videographer Steve Schopper’s (also a CSFD employee) short video demonstrates the positive impact Firewise principles can have on a home; and it also shows the untreated areas that contributed to the home’s vulnerability and required firefighter intervention. The video provides an invaluable visual opportunity that all wildland/urban interface residents should see!
If I had an opportunity to meet the residents of the home featured in this video, I’d give them a huge hug and congratulate them on all the positive things they did to prepare their property for a wildfire. Many of the Firewise principles they performed were done long before the fire; and it’s my assumption others were done just prior to evacuation – all of which deserve immense kudos. It’s obvious these residents took their responsibility for living in the wildland/urban interface seriously; and proactively made good choices for both the structure and landscaping. Their work provided firefighters the space and opportunity to defend the home. The positive actions that could be ascertained from watching the video included:
- Trees were limbed up and low hanging branches removed
- No branches overhanging the roof
- Firewood was stored away from the structure (the recommended distance is 30 feet away)
- Patio furniture was moved off the deck and away from the structure prior to evacuating
- A stone material was used to construct the retaining wall
- Stone steps were used to lead from the home into the forested area
- Class A roofing materials
- Trees were thinned
After sharing the strengths of their efforts, I’d also let them know there were a few areas that could have further increased the home’s ability to withstand a fire without firefighter assistance:
- Remove the mulch in the 3 to 5 foot zone around the structure and replace it with pea gravel, river rock or other type of non-flammable material. The mulch made the area very vulnerable to the fire. For in-depth information on mulch choices reference the April 11, 2013, Fire Break Blog
- Shrubs were planted beneath windows - embers could ignite the vegetation and compromise the glass, causing it to break and providing an entry point for the fire to enter the home
- Native grasses should be mowed to a height of less than four inches
- It was hard to accurately tell from the video – but it appears the duff layer (the layer of moderately to highly decomposed leaves, needles, fine twigs, and other organic material found between the mineral soil surface and soil) could have been reduced (notice the firefighter working this area)
This video is also an excellent example of why homeowners should always heed evacuation notices and reject any desire to stay and personally defend their home. The firefighters are wearing specialized personal protective equipment (PPE) that protects them from heat, smoke, and hot gasses; and they have extensive training and experience.
My thanks and appreciation to my friend, and former colleague Steve Schopper, for providing an amazing learning tool that I’m sure will be viewed by thousands.