Jefferson  County Case Study
Improve Fire Prevention and Suppression Reduce Hazardous FuelsRestore Fire Adapted Ecosystems Promote Community AssistanceSummary


WGA Goal - Improve Fire Prevention and Suppression

Actions to meet goal

  • Improve firefighting capability/readiness to protect communities and the environment
  • Reduce incidence of injury to life and property resulting from catastrophic wildland fire
  • Expand outreach and education to homeowners
  • Develop a consistent preparedness model among partners

Improve firefighting capability/readiness to protect communities and the environment

After the Hi Meadow Fire in 2000, the sheriff assigned a Wildfire Task Force and discovered that communications were a big problem in the county. The use of an emergency preparedness network (EPN), which is a reverse 911 system, emerged as a recommendation out of the Task Force. Jefferson County Office of Emergency Management also acquired incident command radio interface boxes (ICRIs) to give them the ability to patch radio frequencies in the field. They also realized they needed stronger incident command structure, better training and standardization.

To notify residents about a fire, the Office of Emergency Management uses the EPN through a process of pre-notification and evacuation preparation messages. They can reach 2,300 homes in 30 seconds with the EPN, and the system will recall up to five times if it gets a busy signal. The system will report back to let them know how many homes were reached successfully. Evacuation notification also is distributed rapidly in person in areas of immediate danger by way of patrol cars with bullhorns and public announcement systems. All-clear notifications are delivered via the EPN when specific areas are no longer in potential danger.

Reduce incidence of injury to life and property resulting from catastrophic wildland fire

Jefferson County

The Jefferson County Office of Planning and Zoning has been proactive in passing and enforcing requirements for county residents in the wildland urban interface. For instance, Jefferson County requires that all homes in the most hazardous areas need to have 1-hour rated roofs. After the Buffalo Creek Fire in 1996, the county realized it needed to make some changes to its regulations and required defensible space for new additions to homes. Initially the requirement only applied to residual development for new construction that was adding 400 square feet for a rebuild or “habitable space,” which meant garages, closets and such were exempt.

In 2002, the Jefferson County Commissioners called for wider application of rules requiring defensible space and approved stronger enforcement for these regulations. Now if a homeowner expands any part of their home by 400 square feet or more it is subjected to defensible space requirements. As a consequence of the 2002 changes, Jefferson County Planner Tim Carl says, "We have an ability to ask for defensible not just in the habitable area, but any additional space." Homeowners have the site inspected and verified by a certified contractor as being defensible before they can obtain their certificate of occupancy. To enforce the provisions, the permit tracking system notifies the Office of Planning and Zoning if the homeowner hasn't completed their final inspection. If the homeowner doesn't complete the process they are issued a zoning violation.

To create defensible space prior to building, the Office of Planning and Zoning follows Colorado State University Cooperative extension guidelines number 6.302, “A National Resources Series Creating Wildfire Defensible Zones.” Certified "alternates" are allowed to do defensible space inspections and assessment in place of CSFS employees. Four individuals currently meet the criteria established to be an alternate in Jefferson County. It is up to the homeowner to hire one of these contractors and the homeowner pays the cost—a set fee of $350.

Expand outreach and education to homeowners

Jefferson County

In 2000 the Jefferson County Commissioners recommended hiring a Wildfire Mitigation Specialist to help with education and outreach efforts. In 2001 Rocco Snart took this position. Located within the Office of Emergency Management, the Wildfire Mitigation Specialist is meant to educate the public and mitigate potential problems with wildfire. According to Snart, "My position provides technical support for [planning and zoning] for different fire behavior or any other mitigation aspects that have to do with emergency management." Snart finds that his time is divided on a seasonal basis to meet community needs across a wide variety of activities. He works on homeowner assessments, prescription burning, wildfire response, coordinating the slash program, developing educational materials and promoting wildfire mitigation in general. Community meetings are the main focus of the education effort. They are based on the FIREWISE model. In August 2003, the Wildfire Mitigation Specialist started 6,500 sixth grade students in a FIREWISE program in outdoor education labs.

Other outreach efforts in the county come from the Public Information Department, which sponsored a contest where citizens were asked to submit slogans that would appear on roadsides to educate travelers about fire hazards. The concept is six signs placed an appropriate distance apart on the roadway for travelers to view in succession. Twelve slogans were chosen. Examples include: "Aspen groves and ponderosa pine look better without a fire line" and "Don't fling your butt beside the trail and we won't fling your butt in jail".

Colorado State Forestry

In addition to these County outreach efforts Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) has engaged in education efforts. CSFS initially promoted the County Fire Forum Concept, a one-day workshop to pull together homeowners, neighborhood associations and fire departments. To encourage participation, they would send mailers to all neighborhood associations and ask them to send a representative to one of the forums, but this was not very successful.

CSFS now is taking a more localized approach and tries to target specific areas. In Jefferson County, CSFS puts on wildfire mitigation programs to homeowners associations upon request, but charges a fee for their time to do the presentation. Typically, CSFS charges $75 for the first hour of consultation and $26 for each additional hour. Unfortunately, the fee often deters individual homeowners from requesting the presentations so CSFS encourages groups of homeowners to request the presentation and defray the cost. In 2003, CSFS did three wildfire mitigation/defensible space presentations in Jefferson County. No presentations were done in 2002 due to the various fires. Since Jefferson County Office of Emergency Management does not charge to do wildfire mitigation/defensible space presentations, much of the interest gets channeled to them.

Develop a consistent preparedness model among partners

There is no Jefferson County Fire Plan, but there is an annual operating plan that provides direction on how to operate in event of a fire. In the state of Colorado, the county sheriff has responsibility for managing wildland fire suppression on unincorporated, non-federal lands. Fires are coordinated with all communications going between county dispatch and the Pueblo Interagency Dispatch Center. In case of a fire, local fire departments are the first to respond. They call upon mutual aid from neighboring counties if needed and if the fire goes beyond these capabilities, then they call in a Type 3 Incident Management Team. The Type 3 Team is comprised of 85 people from over 20 different agencies. The Type 3 Team meets quarterly and has monthly command and general staff meetings.

Within this structure, Colorado State Forestry provides technical support to the sheriffs and local fire protection districts or fire departments. Colorado State Forestry assists in training activities for suppression purposes in Jefferson County. They have three fire engines to assist with fire training and prescribed fire activities.

All 23 fire departments within the county, State Forestry, Denver Open Space and the US Forest Service attend the Wildfire Coordinating Group every month. They meet specifically for the dissemination of current information, training opportunities, coordination between fire departments, and organization of local fire crews and task forces of engines. They have a very proactive coordination effort to educate and bring local county resources up to a common interagency standard.

The Flood and Fire Task Force meets every two weeks during fire season and is organized by the Office of Emergency Management. The Task Force began in 1996 to address flooding issues, but expanded to cover fire. It is a proactive forum to address resource availability and recommend fire restrictions and fire bans to the sheriff. Members include the OEM, sheriff, open space, public information, health department, urban drainage and flood control district, USFS, CSFS and fire district representatives.

XX Flood warning picture

State Farm Insurance Agency

State Farm graphic State Farm Insurance currently is experimenting with a wildfire mitigation pilot program in six western states. In the late 1990s, insurance companies began to get involved in wildfire mitigation. In January 2002 State Farm began to work with Colorado State Forest Service to identify residential areas that had great wildfire risk. Using GIS technology, a program was launched in May 2003. State Farm does home assessments through Survey Associates, a survey company trained in wildfire mitigation and hazards. In Colorado, State Farm identified the 12,000-14,000 most at risk homes under their coverage. State Farm/Survey Associates focuses primarily on defensible space needs, but also looks at home construction. An assessment is conducted by Survey Associates and then sent to State Farm underwriters. The underwriter analyzes the photos and assessments and sends a letter to the homeowner with recommendations. While State Farm will make recommendations about home construction, these are not recommendations that must be acted on for maintaining the insurance policy. Recommendations for vegetative treatment, however, do need to be acted upon. The policyholder is given 18-29 months to complete the work. If they do not do the work, insurance premiums can be raised or the policyholder could be dropped altogether. Since June 2003, State Farm has completed 5,000 of the 12,000-14,000 home assessments in Colorado.

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