Mark Udall joined with the U.S. Forest Service today to announce the Rocky Mountain Research Station's final report and findings on the Fourmile Canyon Fire, which burned 168 homes and 6,181 acres in western Boulder County in September 2010.
"This year Colorado is experiencing one of the most severe fire seasons on record. The Fourmile Canyon Fire was in many ways similar to the fires that have threatened Fort Collins, Colorado Springs and other Colorado communities this year," Udall said. "The Fourmile Canyon Fire has many lessons for firefighters, homeowners and land managers. We need to learn from these past fires and work together to adopt a strong, balanced approach to forest management, which will help keep Coloradans safe."
"The Fourmile Canyon Fire Assessment Team was tasked to provide a scientific review of how the Fourmile Canyon Fire burned, the damage it caused and how people and agencies responded in order to better reduce the risks of, and respond to, future wildfires on the Front Range of Colorado. Given the complexity of the fire and multiple land jurisdictions, this assessment could not have been accomplished without the information and scientific data provided by the US Forest Service, Colorado State Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Boulder County, local fire districts, and individuals involved with the fire," said Sam Foster, U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Station Director.
Foremost among Udall's concerns is that homeowners are aware that their individual actions are the single most important factor in protecting their homes from a catastrophic wildfire. The researchers found that the condition of the Home Ignition Zone - the design, materials, and the maintenance of the home and the area 100 feet around it - was critical to whether a home survived the Fourmile Canyon Fire. Adobe and non-wood homes where homeowners had removed flammable ground material (like pine needles, grass and even wooden decks) were more likely to survive. To learn more about defensible space techniques and home ignition zones, visit http://csfs.colostate.edu/pages/wf-protection.html or www.firewise.org.
"When news about the Fourmile Canyon Fire started coming in, I was first thankful that no lives had been lost, and then I wanted to know how we could learn from this tragedy. We had a chance to study the things that went wrong - and what was done right - to ensure that we can react better to future wildfires," Udall said. "This fire taught us that the most important yard tool you can have if you live in a wildfire-prone area is not a chainsaw; it's a rake and a weed-whacker. This won't always protect your home from wildfire - some Fourmile Fire homeowners worked hard to create defensible space and still lost their homes - but it's a concrete step that can make a huge difference. We all have a role to play in fighting wildfire."
Additional noteworthy findings include:
The fire's rapid spread was fueled by low humidity, sustained winds of 15 mph or more and an abundance of dry grasses, pine needles and other materials. Although these conditions are extreme, they are not uncommon for the Front Range, so homeowners must be prepared for more of these types of fires.
Fire responders' efforts were very well executed. No lives were lost even though the fire was fast-moving in one of the most densely developed areas of the foothills.
Researchers also found that air tankers were used very effectively. While high winds kept them grounded most of the first day, the tankers were in the air as soon as possible and dropped 174,149 gallons of retardant.
Fuel treatments need to focus on fire mitigation as well as forest health. Fuel treatments in the burn area were often focused on improving the health of the forest, developing safe travel corridors, and to create wildfire defensible zones. However, surface debris from the treatments had not been removed in many instances either physically or by prescribed fire. Thus, the efficacy of the fuel treatments was very limited.
The U.S. Forest Service's final report follows its October 2011 announcement of its preliminary findings.
The final report can be found via http://www.fs.fed.us/rm/pubs/rmrs_gtr289.html.