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Old 06-29-2012, 11:41 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wanneroo View Post

If you would like to live in an eco gulag, please do so, but leave the rest of us alone.

Last thing we need is more hysteria government loonies with more rules, more taxes, more bureaucrats, more regulations, more agencies just because 300 homes burned down. The government and all it's associated clowny bureaucrats have already made a mess of fire and forest management over the past 100 years. Instead of letting nature take it's course, slowly over time, government fiddles and faddles and have made a big mess. The more government gets involved the bigger mess they make.
That's all fine and well until you start asking the question of "who pays" when we're talking about fire policy that is directed on protecting private land and structures instead of other more practical, realistic control policies.

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Old 06-29-2012, 11:49 AM
 
Location: Bend, OR
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The current situation in Colorado is no surprise to me. It saddens me immensely, but it's something that most forest managers, scientists, and the general public predicted for years. When I was studying forestry at Colorado State back in the mid 1990s, my professors talked about catastrophic fires hitting the Front Range. It was just a matter of time. The Ponderosa Pine ecosystem, where many of the mountain homes exist in Colorado, is by far, in the worst shape ever. Historically, these forests were described as "park like settings," with large well spaced trees. Fire was an integral part of this ecosystem. Surface fires were frequent, as short as every 5-25 years, and kept the understory open and free from smaller trees, needles, and other debris. Stand replacement fires, aka crown fires, were very infrequent in this ecosystem, because the tree canopies were not close and the fire didn't have a chance to run through the tops. As fire suppression became the norm, all the little trees that would have burned off didn't, and they grew. The Ponderosa Pine forests you see along the Front Range are a far cry from how they should be. The are packed tightly with small trees. This environment is now a wonderful host for diseases such as mistetoe and insects like the pine beetle. It also creates the perfect fuel for a stand replacing fire. We are seeing this now.

As Colorado continues to battle with the aftermath of these disastrous fires, I do hope some lessons are learned. We need to manage our forests. We also need to ensure people who build their homes in these ecosystems take full responsibility for their potential loss. Whether this becomes an increase in insurance premiums, higher property taxes to pay for firefighting efforts, or a waiver of some sort, I don't know. But, it's clear that living in the forest has it's risks.
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Old 06-29-2012, 11:54 AM
 
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Great post, delta07. Too bad nobody else can or wants to "get it." But, we can't have fires in forests every 2-5 years when there is a bunch of man-made flammable crap in it, now can we?

People still haven't connected the dots: You build a flammable structure in a forest environment that is designed to have relatively benign ground fires to clear underbrush and ground fuels every few years. Because the structure can't even withstand this kind of fire (more about that in a minute), you have to suppress those fires. As a result, the forest gets overcrowded, unhealthy, and prone to larger crown fires. Eventually, a large crown fire starts in this environment. Now, when that fire gets going, it not only takes out the structure built in harm's way, but the fire can become so large and uncontrollable that it spills into areas where a wildfire would normally never have an impact. The Colorado Springs fire is a great example of this.

As to structures not withstanding even ground fires, I saw photos of numerous structures destroyed in the High Park fire where the fire was not even crowning, but merely burning as an otherwise beneficial ground fire. That is "Exhibit A" of the folly of allowing structures being susceptible to even the mildest of wildfire behavior being permitted to be built in areas where they never should have been.

Last edited by jazzlover; 06-29-2012 at 12:08 PM..
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Old 06-29-2012, 12:21 PM
 
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If what I'm told by my pals here is true, some of the homes that burned had shake shingles, which is hard to imagine using in a fire prone area.

I'm also told that one local HOA actually REQUIRED shake shingles, but someone came to their senses and every home in that HOA replaced shakes with less flammable roofing.

Structures with roofing made of sheet metal or clay tiles, with brick or stucco walls and some sort of fire-resistant window shutters would notably reduce the fire hazards, especially when used in conjunction with mitigation efforts.

I can't imagine a worse home than one with shake shingles and vinyl siding, with a garage containing a five gallon can of gasoline for a lawn mower.

Insurance industry needs to really get a grip on what they're insuring in wooded / mountainous areas (not to mention coastal areas and their hazards), get strict about mitigation, and price policies accordingly.

Lobbyists for insurers need to pressure governments to enact appropriately stronger building codes, as Florida has done relative to hurricane hazards. FL residents in hurricane hazard areas whose older homes were built before enactment of more stringent codes pay very high insurance costs.
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Old 06-29-2012, 01:22 PM
 
2,253 posts, read 5,862,227 times
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Wink Where headed?

As there seems to be some misunderstanding, I wish to be quite clear that I am NOT advocating dense urban environments to the exclusion of anyone living individually as they will in the forests.

But I do see that as a possible trend and troubling eventuality. As mentioned by others, what may first influence this are prohibitive insurance rates which effectively dictate what people can and cannot do. Few will be willing to forego home insurance in order to live in the place and style of their dreams. Perhaps even fewer in the financial position to do without it, not just from the possible total loss of a home without compensation, but because most cannot afford a home without mortgage financing, which requires such insurance.

One might consider also that this nation is $15 trillion in debt and counting, with a troubled economy (to put it mildly), with essential services being cut across the board. I can still point to gold-plated construction projects in Colorado, entirely without merit, but the lack of money in general is quite real. Whether wishing to or not, it may be decided relatively soon that fighting these increasingly large wildfires—which due climatic conditions have been growing only larger—will be a practical impossibility. This will present some hard choices. Which in Colorado may take the form of all the more people settling in largely defensible towns and cities. Those in outlying areas may to one degree or another be on their own. Given the prevailing trends in this country, one should not discount the possibility that public opinion will turn against those perceived as putting fire fighters and the common good at risk (even if not wishing their assistance), and even in time government mandates of one type or another that discourage or even prohibit freedoms in a home and its location that we have assumed a given. I do not welcome this, only point to the possibility.

As for our planet Earth, yes, it will surely outlast all of us. As will the planet Mars, but how many would really want to live there? The truth of my argument is plain enough to anyone that has recently visited Grand or Summit counties, many another area as well, perhaps driven from their home or lost it in one of these fires, or only noticed what is transpiring on the news. This Colorado landscape we love is changing before our very eyes in vast tracts of dead dying trees, with now resultant mega-wildfires. Some form of vegetation and life will continue in this state, but these are indeed troubling times for those having become accustomed to and liking this environment as it has been. All changes, but this rapid and effectively permanent (in our lifetimes) shift is unprecedented.

Drinking water can kill you. Too much of anything can. With one of the basic laws of nature a certain balance that all live within, each in their own measure. The conditions for some of these trees and other vegetation, as well as wildlife, is shifting beyond what they are accustomed to or can tolerate. The same can be said for humans, with ozone and other factors making this a less healthy place than their parents enjoyed. Or just in population, with it no accident that smaller towns are generally safer and more friendly than cities, as various experiments with rats in congested conditions have since proved. We enjoy more possibilities and comforts than our forebears, but also less individual freedom.

But for our environment, what remains most critical beyond an excessive global human population is our influence upon this Earth's atmosphere. Reputable scientists warned about the increasing effects and then irreversible tipping point with concentrations of greenhouse gases beyond 350ppm. We are presently at 400ppm, and what that represents is being born out daily in reports of ever higher record temperatures across this state, nation and world. Also in the increasingly severe and temperamental weather, which is to be expected with a warmer climate. CO2 and other gases are a natural part of this environment, but to suggest artificially and rapidly increasing them to levels not seen in 800,000 years is in any way not a problem is totally specious.

This is the reality we are living today. One has only to look back ten and twenty years, and then that much forward in consideration. That outlook might give one pause, and where we might best be headed.
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Old 06-29-2012, 03:02 PM
 
Location: Bend, OR
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You know, the other factor that needs to be considered is the air quality restrictions Denver has in relation to prescribed burns. When I was working on the Pike/San Isabel NFs, we often couldn't do the burning we needed to because of these restrictions. While I understand the need for air quality regulation, I also know that prescribed burning has a limited window of time when conditions are best to achieve results. The combination of thinning and burning in the Ponderosa Pine ecosystem will greatly reduce the fuel buildup and catastrophic fire risk. I only hope this issue is addressed when the reports are written about the fires this year.
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Old 06-29-2012, 03:47 PM
 
Location: Sunnyvale, CA
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This is what happens when too much fire suppression in forests and natural fires aren't allowed to run their course.
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Old 06-29-2012, 06:25 PM
 
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It should be noted that there are several main forest types in Colorado, and each have life cycles and fire behavior that are different. As noted before, Ponderosa Pine forests, which are a common "foothill" type forest in Colorado, require frequent low-level fires to remain healthy. If fire is suppressed, the trees will overcrowd, become prone to pest infestations, and become very susceptible to large crown fires. That is exactly what we've seen in Colorado Springs and the eastern part of the High Park fire this year, as well as Hayman and Missionary Ridge in 2002. Often Douglas Fir (not a "true" fir tree) will share some habitat with Ponderosa--the Ponderosa's favoring warmer, drier southern slopes and Douglas Fir favoring cooler, wetter northern slopes. Douglas Fir, like Ponderosa, is susceptible to beetles and other pests if the trees are overcrowded and can burn vigorously in drought conditions.

Colorado lodgepole forests are another matter. Lodgepole stands in Colorado tend to be thick "dog-hair" stands of trees. Why? Because fire is what causes their cones to open and re-seed. The fire cycle is longer for lodgepole than it is for Ponderosa--up to a hundred years or so, but the fires, when they do occur, tend to be large crown fires that burn both extremely intensely and cover large acreages. That is the type of forest that the west side of the High Park fire burned into, and it is also the yet (not if, but when) to be ignited large fires in the tens of thousands of acres of dead and dying lodgepole in the central and northern Colorado mountains. Much, if not most, of Colorado's lodgepole forests are nearing the end of their normal life cycle, so we are way overdue for fires in the lodgepole ecosystems.

Then there are the high-altitude spruce/fir forests. They tend to have very infrequent fires. The higher precipitation regime at their altitude (along with residual soil moisture from snowpack) make fires there small and relatively short-lived in most years. However, under record dry conditions as these, combined with a lot of dead trees from spruce budworm attacks, fire conditions can become much more explosive and widespread. When these forests are burned, it is a major environment-altering event where it will often take centuries for spruce/fir to recolonize burned areas. A prime example of this is the area around Cumbres Pass on the Colorado/New Mexico border that burned in 1879--spruce are only now slowly re-colonizing a lot of the burned area.

Colorado's aspen forests are often a result of coniferous forests being removed by either clearcutting or fire. Aspen is a "pioneer" species that will colonize disturbed areas. Because aspen typically exists in areas with heavier precipitation and moister soils, aspens forests themselves are usually less susceptible to fire, but they can burn if conditions are dry enough. When aspen does burn the type of fire will dictate the regeneration. If the fire is not severe enough to kill the aspen's root system, they will regenerate vigorously. But, if the fire is severe enough that its heat kills the aspen root system, it can take decades for trees to regenerate because aspen generally grow by "suckering" from an existing "clone" of trees sharing a common root system, and not from seeding.

Then there is piñon/juniper ("P-J"). This forest type is generally comprised of widely spaced trees, interspersed with sagebrush. These are arid forests under the best of conditions. Because of the trees wider dispersion, most fires in the P-J can be small and relatively easy to control. However, under very dry conditions, particularly if winds are strong, they can burn vigorously--and cover tens of thousands of acres in a short time. The Pine Ridge fire burning near Grand Junction is a good example of a P-J fire gone wild.

None of these forests are a good place to have man-made structures placed in harm's way. Defensible space, widely touted as a protection measure, can be very effective in protecting structures in relatively mild and small fires, but they are of much more limited efficacy in large "mega-fires." This is especially true in overgrown Ponderosa forests and in lodgepole forests that are prime to burn. Most of the structure destruction so far this summer has occurred in Ponderosa forests, but the real disaster waiting in the wings is a large fire event in Colorado's diseased lodgepole forests. That kind of fire could cause significant structure destruction, but, more importantly could significantly compromise some of Colorado's most critical watersheds--for as much as a year or more.
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Old 06-29-2012, 08:09 PM
 
Location: Colorado Springs
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mike from back east View Post
If what I'm told by my pals here is true, some of the homes that burned had shake shingles, which is hard to imagine using in a fire prone area.

I'm also told that one local HOA actually REQUIRED shake shingles, but someone came to their senses and every home in that HOA replaced shakes with less flammable roofing.

Structures with roofing made of sheet metal or clay tiles, with brick or stucco walls and some sort of fire-resistant window shutters would notably reduce the fire hazards, especially when used in conjunction with mitigation efforts.

I can't imagine a worse home than one with shake shingles and vinyl siding, with a garage containing a five gallon can of gasoline for a lawn mower.

Insurance industry needs to really get a grip on what they're insuring in wooded / mountainous areas (not to mention coastal areas and their hazards), get strict about mitigation, and price policies accordingly.

Lobbyists for insurers need to pressure governments to enact appropriately stronger building codes, as Florida has done relative to hurricane hazards. FL residents in hurricane hazard areas whose older homes were built before enactment of more stringent codes pay very high insurance costs.
Today, since the air had cleared to a large extent, I resumed my 2 mile walks every other day. I went down on one of the flat streets near Penrose Hospital. As I was walking along I noted one older house that had the shake shingles...oops, but wait a minute...they were faux shake shingles that appeared to be ceramic (although I may be wrong on their composition).

In this older neighborhood I also noted a few houses where they needed to do some cleanup of dead branches and wood just laying around (including at the Catholic Church).
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Old 06-29-2012, 08:56 PM
 
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My wildfire experience and knowledge is mainly confined to the Pacific Northwest, and there are significant differences in settlement patterns/forest composition/overall climate from that region and Colorado. However, Oregon has actually been dealing with "wildland-urban interface" fires for quite some time, going back to the frontier era, when fires would periodically sweep through small towns and reduce them to cinders. Over the decades, various laws and other approaches have been implemented in reaction to these events.

This is a brief, non-technical essay on wildland-urban fires in Oregon since the early 1900's:

A Short History of Wildland/Urban Interface Fires in Oregon - Oregon Department of Forestry

The biggest development in recent times probably came in the early 1990's, when a law called the Oregon Forestland-Urban Interface Fire Protection Act was passed with strong bipartisan support. The law is statewide, but the implementation is obviously local, county by county, and it took quite a while to set up and administer what eventually became the permitting process for structures located in various categories of wildfire "risk" zones. Here's a sample overview of the law's requirements as they apply in Jackson County, located in southwestern Oregon near the California border:

Interface Fire Protection Act - Jackson County - Oregon Department of Forestry

So for instance, a typical regulation is one like this:

A 50-foot fuel break is required around a structure on a property located in a forestland-urban interface area classified “extreme.” If the structure has a cedar shake roof, the fuel break must be 100 feet.

Obviously, measures like this won't necessarily come anywhere close to saving structures from a big, hot, fast-moving fire. But the hope is that - taken in combination, and implemented across the board - it becomes easier to knock down smaller urban interface fires with the potential to erupt into bigger problems.

And that may be the case in some fires - in August 2010, an arson-sparked fire destroyed 11 homes and damaged 2 more in the city of Ashland, in southern Oregon. The weather was hot and dry, but the fire was contained without spreading beyond a relatively small area. Within that area, there were serious problems with tall, dry grasses, but not really with dessicated or flammable trees, which had previously been removed.

But the limitations are also clear. In July 2002, two fires got going in far southwestern Oregon, around a remote area called the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, and then they converged, and torched the whole area. The fire ended up burning itself out after ripping through half a million acres, and there were still "hotspots" being extinguished by winter rain and snow as late as Christmas. Due to the sparse population, only 14 homes and structures were lost, but the same fire pattern is potentially replicable in areas with denser habitation.

Part of the fire's intensity came from stands of dead, dry, or dying Chamaecyparis lawsoniana (Lawson's Cypress/Port Orford Cedar) trees whose roots had been infected by the notorious P. lateralis fungus. Once the flames hit them, they lit up like candelabras, and the fire climbed into the forest canopy. I am skeptical that this type of fire can be controlled much at all - the heat is simply too concentrated and intense. Planes have to maintain their distance due to peals of blistering air radiating up from the forest.

One reason this area had not been "built up" was due to a very prominent history of fire. Fires ran through portions of these forests in 1924, 1938, 1987, and then the big explosion in 2002. It takes about four or five decades for the vegetation to build back up to the point where fire will cull it again given the right amount of drought.

For more information on the Kalmiopsis and its vegetation/fires, here's a US Forest Service report [PDF format] from 1995, done up in federal government Courier typewriter font and all the rest...

Kalmiopsis Wilderness watershed analysis - United States Forest Service

The primary lesson of these fires is quite simple - unless we choose to clearcut the Kalmiopsis and re-clearcut regularly, structures built inside of its boundaries will be subject to extreme fire threats two to four times per century. I would be opposed to the federal government or the state of Oregon opening these lands to residential settlement.

A secondary lesson has to do with hillsides - fire uses hills like ladders, and it is generally more difficult to slow down or halt hill fires than fires which spread laterally without changes in elevation. This is something we have seen play out globally in recent years - the Mt. Carmel fire in northern Israel in 2010, the Greek firestorms of 2007, Spain's 2005 fires, the southern Californian wildfire outbreaks of 2007 and 2003, the Oakland firestorm of 1991, and even the Storm King Mountain catastrophe of 1994. Houses near hills or on hills or above hills will always be tougher to defend in a fire zone than houses on plains. This is unavoidable.

With all that in mind, it's also helpful to keep the longer-term view at hand. A "forest" is not a static entity; forests are defined in terms of "successions" from "sere" to "sere." You start with bare ashen dust, and 800 years later, you may have a gigantic forest of thick, late-successional trees towering 300 feet above your head. A human lifespan can't come anywhere close to the persistence of trees, and that's pretty much all there is to it.

Last edited by tablemtn; 06-29-2012 at 09:15 PM..
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