A free countywide wildfire mitigation program received a funding boost from the Vail Board of Realtors® (VBR) that was matched by Eagle County for a total of $20,000. Thanks to these additional funds, the REALFire® Program can help local residents and property owners by providing extra grant resources up to $1,000 per property to voluntarily mitigate dangerous natural and manmade fuels. Property assessments through REALFire® are free. However, wildfire mitigation recommendations can be costly.
Since the Lake Christine Fire near Basalt in 2018, and the close proximity of the Grizzly Creek Fire in Glenwood Canyon last year, Eagle County residents are gaining awareness to wildfire threats. Assessments have been in full swing since April, according to Eric Lovgren, Eagle County Wildfire Mitigation Specialist.
“Since last year, REALFire requests are up at least 200 percent,” says Lovgren. “The Lake Christine Fire has really opened people’s eyes to the danger. Currently, we are under what feels like a mountain of assessments from Vail to Basalt.”
How REALFire® works
Get started sooner rather than later advises Lovgren. We had a dry winter. Property owners can access the program application at realfire.net. Processing the application should take approximately 1-2 days to get a response. During busy times, it can take longer.
An experienced fire professional will visit the property to perform an in-depth assessment for wildfire fuels. Depending on the size of the property, this can take anywhere from 30-60 minutes for an average-sized single family or duplex, to 20 hours or more for multi-family properties or those with sizable acreage.
“There’s no one-size-fits-all for assessment timing,” says Lovgren. “It’s hard to pin down how long it will take. Some folks have more resources than others. But, even chipping away at the problem is a good thing – some fire mitigation is better than none.”
The assessment process works by identifying fuels closest to the structure and expanding to the rest of the property. Professionals look at “built fuels” such as gutters and vents, shingles, and decks then beyond for “grown fuels” including fallen or dead trees, leaves, fallen needles, and overgrown landscaping.
Post assessment, clients receive a detailed report with voluntary actions designed to measurably reduce wildfire danger. This can be anything from simply cleaning gutters and cutting low-hanging branches that touch the structure to costly fixes including replacing roof shingles and/or structural improvements like decks and siding. REALFire® also assists applicants in wildfire disaster planning by recommending important tasks like taking property inventory and guidance for fire insurance policy issues.
“Some people come to us because they are facing policy nonrenewal problems due to fire risk,” explains Lovgren. “We can work with the insurer to provide a third-party opinion regarding work needed on the home, and we offer a certificate for proof of successful completion of mitigation activities. Homeowners should maintain the efforts every year. I believe throughout Colorado we will continue to see increasing scrutiny regarding policies; scarcity of building materials for a rebuild after a wildfire drive premium costs. A good piece of advice to share: Be proactive. Have this conversation with your insurer because it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when the wildfires come.”
2021 wildfire predictions
According to drought analyses shared by Hannah Ohlson, Forest Service Fire Prevention Technician, our zone in the White River National Forest is experiencing exceptional drought conditions.
“Our latest predictive forecast indicates hotter temperatures and drier precipitation April-August,” says Ohlson. “This means we can expect above normal, significant fire potential and risk in our zone again this year.”
“Historically we don’t see large fire activity in our zone but, enduring drought conditions, a symptom of climate change, have significantly elevated our wildfire potential. We hope that the 2020 fire activity was anomalous, but forecasts and predictions show that 2021 could yield similar conditions.”
Additionally, our Rocky Mountain monsoon patterns have changed. In past years, those mostly welcome daily afternoon thunderstorms provided natural wildfire mitigation through precipitation. Decreased monsoonal activity has extended our fire season into the fall. “This cumulative soil-moisture deficit has created drought-stressed, fire-prone vegetative growth,” says Ohlson.
Community safety and homeowner education
With the recent gift to the REALFire® program, the VBR is fulfilling a commitment to our community’s wellness. VBR partnered with Eagle County to create the program in 2014 and it has steadily gained awareness. Program leadership consists of a diverse collective of community stakeholders.
“Our primary purpose is to promote REALFire,” explains Laura Sellards, task force member,
Realtor and VBR past chair. “We want to educate community members about the property assessment opportunity and grant funds available for mitigating wildfire risks on private and multi-family properties.”
Now in her first year on the task force, Sellards’ volunteer participation is personal, “Every year, the impact of wildfire seems to grow in our local communities, statewide and nationally. We owe so much to the men and women that selflessly serve during these devastating events and put their lives on the line protecting our homes, animals, livelihoods and families. Bringing awareness and helping to prepare homeowners through wildfire mitigation seems like one small area that I can help.”
Other task force members include VBR members, as well as property insurance representation, Eagle County government, Greater Eagle Fire Protection, Community Wildfire Planning Center, Greater Eagle Fire Protection, and the Eagle River Fire District.
Most importantly, our community should know this program works. The Lake Christine Fire is a stunning example. Homes that created defensible space and performed mitigation fared well. Hundreds of homes were defended, but only three were lost.
According to Lovgren, “Home owners that mitigated their propertythrough the program, and new builds that went through the building permit process were both successful in this fire. One property was in the process of actively mitigating trees and that alone helped it survive.”
Going back to Sellards’s inspiration for involvement, there are simply not enough firefighters to save entire neighborhoods. Proactive homeowners that create defensible space can save their own homes and their neighbor’s while allowing firefighters to focus on communities at large. It’s a symbiotic relationship that firefighters count on now more than ever.
For more information about the REALFire® program and grant funding for mitigation, visit realfire.net.