- Associated Press - Sunday, September 27, 2015

COLORADO SPRING, Colo. (AP) - Fire experts say El Paso County failed to enact significant changes to land use or fire codes following a destructive wildfire that burned 15,000 acres, destroyed 488 homes and killed two people two years ago.

The county has wildfire protections built into land use codes for large-scale developments, but it did not improve or extend those codes after the Black Forest fire in 2013. Currently there are no codes for individual homes like the ones for large subdivisions.

County-wide codes governing development in wildfire zones are not universal in Colorado and are not easy to enforce where they do exist, the Colorado Springs Gazette reported (https://tinyurl.com/ofz58fk ).

Officials say El Paso County’s diverse landscapes make it challenging to have a one-size-fits-all code for development. The codes also raise questions about property rights.

El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark said the county has wrestled with the issue for years.

“What I will say is that there are things that are important in our development code already, such as … making sure there is adequate water supply, and ensuring that when large developments are done, there is that defensible space,” she said.

Other counties are moving toward more regulation. Boulder County boasts a robust system that regulates all new development in wildfire areas. Other counties and cities are creating wildfire hazard rating maps, broken down by parcel.

“We are seeing more and more of these codes being implemented, and more and more interest,” said Mike Caggiano, a researcher with Colorado State University. “There are definitely a lot of challenges to implementing these sorts of codes, and property rights are a big issue here. They need to be effective and make sure that they work well.”

Passing a new, stricter fire code takes money and staffing that not all counties have, said Andrew Notbohm, an emergency management coordinator for the Boulder Office of Emergency Management.

“It’s a lot of work to go out and enforce new construction. … To do it well, it takes a lot work and it takes staffing,” he said.


Information from: The Gazette, https://www.gazette.com

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