Policies Put More Coloradans at Risk
By Michael Kodas and Burt Hubbard
The number of wildfires in Colorado has exploded during the past decade. So has the number of people living in high-risk fire zones.
And public policies for dealing with both actually risk making the state’s fire danger even worse, an I-News Network investigation found.
In the past two decades, a quarter million people have moved into Colorado’s red zones – the parts of the state at risk for the most dangerous wildfires. Today, one of every four Colorado homes is in a red zone.
Ellen Bozzell and her husband, Scott Roth, felt the lure of a red zone four years ago. The beautiful forest. Winds to generate power. They built their dream home in the mountainside subdivision of Buckskin Heights, overlooking Fort Collins.
But the thick trees, gusty winds and steep terrain made for a catastrophic combination when lightening sparked the High Park fire on June 9. The fire west of Fort Collins quickly became the most damaging in state history, destroying more homes than any other and killing one person.
“If our house burns down, we won’t rebuild up there,” Bozzell said the day after her evacuation, taking refuge in a friend’s barn. “We will move into town.”
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Sidebar – Are forestry policies replacing one hazard with another?
By Michael Kodas
When Tom and Sharon Scanlan began building their home in the Kuehster Road community southwest of Denver six years ago, they could see mountainsides scarred by the state’s most massive wildfire ever – the 2002 Hayman fire.
“We looked at it every single day,” Tom Scanlan says.
Those charred mountainsides helped inspire the couple to build their mountain home out of inflammable insulated concrete, bury their propane tank far from the house and cut scores of trees to create defensible spaces around the house and barn.
“We often had guys come up and talk to us from the state tree forestry,” Tom Scanlan says. “We understood the risks and we all did…more than was recommended.”
But when the Lower North Fork fire roared into their neighborhood in March, the Scanlans escaped only minutes ahead of the flames that left their home a charred ruin.
“There was no mitigation that could possibly be done to stop what happened here,” Tom Scanlan says.
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About the reporters…
Michael Kodas is author of the book “High Crimes: The Fate of Everest in an Age of Greed.”A 20-year veteran journalist, he was a member of the Hartford Courant team that won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news. He won the top prize in nonfiction from the National Best Books 2008 Awards by USA Book News, and first place for a self-illustrated story in the Lowell Thomas Awards of the Society of American Travel Writers. He formerly worked as a staff photographer, picture editor and writer at the Hartford Courant, as well as at newspapers and magazines in Kansas.
Carolyn Moreau is a journalist, videographer and documentary filmmaker based in Boulder, Colorad.
She grew up in New Zealand and worked there as a journalist and television producer before moving to the US, where she produced a live daily talk show and spent 15 years as a reporter in Connecticut for the Hartford Courant, the nation’s oldest continuously published newspaper.
Carolyn’s documentary work took her to Mount Everest, where she shot and produced video for the book HIgh Crimes: The Fate of Everest in an Age of Greed, showing how high dollar expeditions are bringing crime to the world’s tallest mountain. Most recently, she produced a documentary short for HDnet World Report on the aftermath of the earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Carolyn is a co-founder of Narrative Light, a documentary and multi-media production company, and Small Camera Workshop, which teaches organizations and businesses how to tell their own stories using consumer camcorders. Visit NarrativeLight.com