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Community Wildfire Protection Plan

The Genesee Fire Protection District (FPD) and Forest Stewards Guild (the Guild) have completed an update of the Genesee Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP). This has been a yearlong process that involved state-of-the-art wildfire modeling and robust engagement with residents and other stakeholders to assess wildfire hazards and community preparedness and to identify strategic investments to mitigate wildfire risk. The report and accompanying documents are below. We encourage you to read the reports and give us your feedback.

The original CWPP for Genesee FPD was completed by Walsh Environmental Scientists and Engineers, LLC. in 2008. An updated CWPP provides critical insights to the Genesee FPD wildfire pre-plans to improve emergency response and enhance the safety of firefighters and residents. A current CWPP also makes communities in the Genesee FPD more competitive for mitigation grants.

Genesee Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP)

Additional Resources

Executive Summary

Community Letter

Frequently Asked Questions

The Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) is a living document, not meant to sit on the shelf, but rather to be a blueprint for action at the individual, HOA and fire district level.

The purpose of a CWPP is to use scientifically-based assessment tools and modeling to predict potential wildfire behavior in the community (in our case, in the Genesee Fire Protection District, GFPD) in order to:

  • Develop pre-plans for fire-fighting response and evacuation to be used by Genesee Fire Rescue (GFR) and partners should a wildfire develop in or threaten the GFPD.
  • Recommend prioritized fuel treatment to decrease wildfire risk and improve the safety of conditions during a potential evacuation in the GFPD.
  • Empower and support residents to understand fire risk across the GFPD, actions they can take to prepare for a wildfire emergency, and methods to mitigate the risk that a wildfire will destroy their home.

All CWPPs must meet the minimum standards established by the Colorado State Forest Service.

The previous CWPP was prepared in 2008. Since that time fuel treatments to reduce wildfire risk have taken place in parts of the GFPD and fuel loads have increased in other parts. There have also been advancements in wildfire behavior modeling that provide a scientifically based picture of potential wildfire behavior in the GFPD. Additionally, there is a greater understanding of how risks can be mitigated in the home ignition zone.

Having a current, scientifically-based CWPP is a requirement for many of the grant opportunities that can offset the cost of mitigation activities. GFR is currently looking at grant opportunities to offset the cost of improving evacuation routes and supporting a GFPD-wide chipping program. We will also look for grants for homeowners to off-set the cost of private property mitigation. Granting agencies are increasingly focused on making strategic investments, for example, a neighborhood working together to mitigate shared risk across a larger area spanning multiple properties.

CWPPs are not policy documents and are not legally binding. They are intended to facilitate efforts where stakeholders within communities, including residents, HOAs, fire protection districts, and government and business entities, work together to help make their communities safer from wildfire.

Wildfire

Yes. The ranking of plan units in GFPD as low, moderate, high or extreme (reference the figure in the CWPP) is a relative ranking. It means that you live in a plan unit that has a lower risk than other plan units in the GFPD. However, the entire GFPD has significant risk from exposure to wildfires. Even if there are no trees in the immediate vicinity of your house, your house is still at risk of ignition due to embers flying from a wildfire that can be as far away as 1.5 miles. Embers can cause home ignitions when they land on fuels, which could include a woodpile, pine needles or leaves in your gutters and around the foundation of your house, flammable material stored under a deck, padded outdoor furniture, etc., or enter your house through an unscreened vents and eaves. During many wildland fires, 50 to 90% of homes ignite due to embers rather than radiant heat or direct flame.

Home mitigation refers to removing these potential fuels through routine maintenance (cleaning gutters, keeping a 5 ft area around your house free of vegetation, etc.); home hardening refers the use of fire-resistant building materials for roofs, siding, decks, fences, etc. See Wildfire Risk Reduction for detailed information on home mitigation and hardening.

The data underlying these analyses do not support a higher resolution for several reasons: structures cannot be modeled as fuel with the current software and an unrealistic amount of on-the-ground data would have to be collected about every tree and the amount of foliage on that tree. On a larger scale, what the modeling tells you is whether the area your home is in is at risk from direct flame, short- and long-range embers. For homes with high risk, mitigation around the house (defensible space and home hardening) is crucial to it the best chance of surviving a wildfire.

This is a frequently expressed concern. Insurance companies are already aware of the wildfire risk in the GFPD through existing, publicly available risk assessments (see, for example, the US Forest Service Community Risk Community Risk Assessment, which concludes that “populated areas of Genesee have, on average, greater risk than 97% of communities in Colorado.”). Insurance companies also do their own assessments to determine policies, including what their exposure is in a given community based on the number of homes they insure. To our knowledge, CWPPs have not been used by the insurance industry to assess homes and policies. Additionally, the hazard assessment relative risk rankings in the CWPP examine general, landscape-scale hazard potential of each plan unit shown in the maps and not the specific hazard to each individual home in that unit. Our CWPP clearly states that it is not appropriate to make inferences about the hazard level of individual homes from this assessment. Variables such as defensible space, access, construction materials, and response aspects must also be factored in.

The decision to fund an update to the GFPD CWPP reflects our commitment to being prepared to respond to a wildfire in the District. Using current fuels data and scientifically based wildfire modeling analyses presented in the CWPP, GFR has developed strategic and tactical maps that address key elements pertinent to wildfire response. These serve as tools for not only GFR responders but also for law enforcement and out-of-district partner agencies responding to wildfires in the GPFD, thereby improving both safety and effectiveness.

GFR has joined various cooperative efforts among our partner agencies and the State that will make the maps developed through the CWPP immediately available to fire agencies in neighboring fire protection districts, as well as to the State multi-mission aircraft (MMA). This will facilitate their rapid deployment and response as they can view the maps en route to the fire. All of this increases the efficacy and safety associated with the initial response to a wildfire in the GFPD.

GFR has recently replaced one of its engines with an interface engine designed specifically to operate in the wildland-urban interface. GFR sent this engine and a total of 7 GFR firefighters on 3 deployments to the Cameron Peak ire this summer. The engine performed well and the firefighters got invaluable wildland fire experience.

GFR has hired a wildland specialist whose primary responsibility will be community outreach and working with our partner agencies to build on the findings of the CWPP.

GFR firefighters and firefighters from partner departments will respond to the fire as quickly and efficiently as possible, however extreme weather conditions make wildland fire extremely difficult to control. There is no guarantee that firefighters will be able to defend your home or stop the growth of a wildfire. Even when they are able to contain a wildfire, an ember could ignite another fire beyond their containment lines or could ignite your home. Therefore, it is important for you to create defensible space and undertake home hardening activities that will reduce the chances your home will be lost in a wildfire.

Our situation is critical, but not hopeless. The first thing to understand is that most of the modeling-based analyses presented in the CWPP assume that a fire start occurs under extreme weather (90th and 97th percentile conditions) in terms of temperature and winds. As a point of reference, 97th percentile conditions were met 5 times in 2019 and 16 times in 2020. The reason behind using these assumptions is that the analyses provide a road map for prioritizing utilization of community or fire district resources on mitigation efforts. In other words, they reflect a worst-case wildfire situation.

It is the responsibility of each homeowner to mitigate those factors that increase the risk that a wildfire will result in loss of their home. Do not rely on firefighters to save your home – rather, take steps to harden your home to decrease the likelihood that your home will ignite from embers that can travel great distances from the fire front and create defensible space around your home to reduce the likelihood of home ignition from a very hot crown fire that produces enough radiant heat and/or flames impinging on your house to ignite your house directly. A well-mitigated home allows fire firefighters the opportunity to do their job more safely. Firefighters will risk a lot to save a lot, but they will not risk a lot to save a little, including trying to defend a home that does not have defensible space. Even if firefighters are unable to directly protect your home during a wildfire, implementing effective wildfire mitigation (defensible space and home hardening) will still increase your home’s chances for survival.

Homes can never be made fireproof, so there is a risk of home loss during wildfire even for well mitigated homes. However, the risk of home loss is reduced when you take proactive measures. There are numerous examples of homes with defensible space and ignition-resistant features surviving high-intensity wildfires during hot, dry, windy days. More importantly, mitigation measures increase the safety of firefighters making it more likely they can defend your property.

For more information about the firefighter perspective on structure protection during a wildfire, watch the 20 minute video from the National Fire Protection Association, Structure Protection in the Wildland/Urban Interface and the 5 minute news video documenting firefighters defending a home during the Black Forest fire.

Living next to a property that has taken no steps toward mitigation likely increases the risk to your house. However, that doesn’t relieve you of the responsibility to do what you can to mitigate your risk. Remember that approximately 50-90% of homes lost in a wildfire ignite due to embers, not due to direct flame contact. Embers can result in home ignitions when they land on fuels, which could include a woodpile, pine needles or leaves in your gutters and around the foundation of your house, flammable material stored under a deck, padded outdoor furniture, etc., or enter your house through unscreened vents and eaves. Home hardening refers to removing these potential fuels through routine maintenance (cleaning gutters, keeping a 5 ft area around your house free of vegetation, etc.) and the use of fire-resistant building materials for roofs, siding, decks, fences, etc. See Wildfire Risk Reduction for detailed information on home hardening.

Creating defensible space through tree removal around your home is more impactful if your neighbors create defensible space as well. Linked defensible space not only reduces the likelihood of a very hot crown fire creating enough radiant heat to directly ignite your home or of flames having direct contact with your house, it also increases the ability of firefighters to safely defend your house from an approaching wildfire. Genesee Fire Rescue is working to develop programs that can facilitate neighborhood action to reduce fire risk.

There are many aspects of wildfire risk mitigation that do not include removing trees. These are the actions associated with home hardening. Home hardening refers to things like using fire resistant building materials for roofs, siding, decks, fences, etc., screening vents to prevent embers from entering your house, and routine maintenance such as cleaning gutters, keeping a 5 ft area around your house free of vegetation, removing flammable material from under decks, etc. Creating defensible space usually does involve tree removal. It is not clear-cutting but, rather, the strategic removal of trees. The emphasis is on vegetation within 30 feet of your home in order to reduce your home’s exposure to radiant heat and direct flame contact. Effective defensible space requires the removal of low-hanging branches, small trees, and shrubs that could carry fire from grasses into tree canopies, as well as the spacing of large trees to decrease the likelihood of crown fires, which can ignite a house directly from radiant heat or direct flame contact. You may be able to keep select trees that are important to you and still create defensible space. There is a science behind recommendations for tree removal to create defensible space. Contact the wildland specialist at GFR (ddalton@geneseefire.org) for more information on how to schedule an evaluation of your defensible space.

Historically, the ecosystem in our District burned frequently in low-severity wildland fires. These fires were a natural force that maintained distance between trees and promoted forest health. Because we have built our homes in the forest and have suppressed naturally occurring fire, the forest surrounding our homes has become overgrown, crowded and unhealthy. Mitigated forests, including those around our homes, are more likely to retain their structure after a wildfire while unmitigated forests lose most trees. Trees need to be cut to retain resilient landscapes near our homes.

No. These decisions are dependent on the specifics of a wildfire scenario. Having created defensible space around your home creates a safer environment for firefighters to operate and a greater chance that they can defend your home. Having contiguous homes with defensible space further increases the chances that fire fighters can operate safely. Whether it is Genesee Fire Rescue or fire resources from outside the District, the situation will be assessed on site and a decision will be made as to how to utilize firefighters safely and optimally in structure protection. Homes that are defensible have adequate safety zones where firefighters could survive if encroached upon by flames without needing to deploy their fire shelters. Homes that are less ignitable, surrounded by defensible space, and safely accessible are more likely to receive the protection of firefighters and fire engines; such homes have a greater chance of being successfully defended and pose fewer hazards to the lives of firefighters.

There are wildfire scenarios that, even with defensible space, it would be unsafe for fire fighters to try and defend a home. This is why home hardening and defensible space are so important in reducing the chances of a home ignition from a fire scenario that precludes firefighter intervention.

Genesee Fire Rescue is working toward a formal wildfire risk home evaluation program similar to programs that currently exist in some other Front Range communities. In the meantime, if you would a like a less formal visit and suggestions about things to do around your house to reduce wildfire risk, please contact the wildland specialist at Genesee Fire Rescue (dorie@geneseefire.org), or, if you live in Genesee Foundation, the Open Space Manager (brian@geneseefoundation.org).

Evacuation

It is important to plan ahead for an evacuation – there may be no warning before the order is issued. You should have a TO GO BAG packed, one for each family member, with essentials you will need to be self-sufficient for 72 hours. Your go-bag should include supplies to last at least three days, including cash, water, clothing, food, first aid, and prescription medicines for your family and pets; it is recommended you have a go-bag for each family member. Along with your go-bag, you should have a list to remind you of last-minute additions (like phone chargers!) to add to the bag if you have time. Keep important documents and possessions in a known and easily accessible location so you can quickly grab them during an evacuation.

Talk with your family members and neighbors to plan for various scenarios. If you are not at home, are there things you need your neighbor to do if there is time? Put a communication plan in place so that family members have a default meeting place should they be separated and agree on a contact person not in the fire zone that everyone can communicate with. Ready, Set, Go has a Wildland Fire Action Guide which includes a lot of useful information including a template for a family action plan.

If you only do one thing to prepare for wildfire, it should be to develop an emergency evacuation plan.

If an evacuation order is issued that includes your home, you should assume that you will not be allowed back into your house. Emergency personnel will be dealing with the overall response and you should not count on them to be available to help. The best solution is to make an emergency plan now. Consider establishing cooperative arrangements with neighbors so that you can cover for each other in an emergency. Be sure children or elderly who are at home receive the CodeRED notification and have a communication plan in place that includes a list of people they could call to get help evacuating. However, if you are in a situation where someone is at home with no way to evacuate, call 911.

Jefferson County uses the CodeRED as their reverse 911 system to order an evacuation. Landlines are automatically registered in the system, although if your landline is internet supported, it is best to manually register it. You can also register cell phone numbers and email addresses. Click here to register. The Genesee Fire Rescue website has additional information on CodeRED, evacuation orders, and family evacuation planning.

Jefferson County has predetermined evacuation units based on topography and road networks. These units are areas that are likely to be evacuated together. Fig 3d.1 of the CWPP shows these units. Depending on the fire scenario, the incident commander on the fire will work with the Sheriff’s Department to determine which zones need to be evacuated (or get a pre-evacuation notice). It is possible your street was not included, while the street next to yours was. Do not call your HOA office or management company during an evacuation--they have been asked by the Sheriff not to give out information because conditions change rapidly during an evacuation and only the Sheriff can make evacuation orders. If you call Genesee Fire Rescue, they will do their best to field calls, but understand that the phone may not be answered because everyone is out fighting the fire. If you have any doubt about whether you should evacuate, you should leave.

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office will be in charge of directing evacuation, working with fire officials to take into account the direction and speed of the fire front. The CWPP provides a lot of information that will be used to refine preplanning for evacuations from the GFPD. Follow directions from law enforcement personnel about the route to take from your home; in the absence of specific directions, use your usual route. Use common sense safety precautions and maintain awareness of what is happening around you. It is important that residents do not “freelance,” for example driving off road down the mountain. You may do this without knowing whether or not you are driving right into a dangerous fire situation, and you could cause an accident or become stranded, which would create additional emergencies on top of an already urgent wildfire situation.

One of the issues that became apparent from the Elephant Butte Fire in Evergreen in 2020 is that it is challenging for residents to get up-to-date and relevant information about an on-going fire that impacts them. Front Range fire districts, the Jefferson County Emergency Manager and community groups are working to find solutions to this issue.

The CWPP includes an analysis of possible locations of designated areas for wildfire evacuation emergencies. These areas are intended for use only as a last-ditch effort to survive a wildfire in the case that you are unable to safely evacuate. You should only go to a designated area for wildfire evacuation emergencies if directed by law enforcement personnel. The CWPP identifies areas that could hold a limited number of people and cars and serve as designated areas for wildfire evacuation emergencies after work to remove fuels and create potentially survivable conditions. GFR has already begun working with property owners to be able to mitigate and maintain these areas in case they are needed. Once these areas have been created and maintained, GFR will share their locations and the protocol for using these areas with all residents in the GPFD.

The GFPD has very few egress routes to I-70, and this can result in substantial evacuation congestion, as illustrated in the CWPP. Our evacuation analysis intentionally focused on scenarios with the maximum potential congestion from a GFPD-wide evacuation order. A total district-wide evacuation order could be issued for a rapidly moving wildfire that starts close to or within the GFPD under extreme weather conditions, and it is important to plan for extreme scenarios to prevent tragic loss of life.

We modeled multiple different egress scenarios to identify potential solutions to decrease congestion and evacuation times across the GFPD. Based on our modeling results, fastest evacuation times occurred for a scenario when residents depart with a single car rather than two cars. Genesee Fire Rescue will communicate the importance of taking as few cars as necessary during our educational activities dealing with emergency preparedness.

Longest evacuation times are for residents living in the southern part of the GFPD due to their distance from I-70. Modeling results presented in the CWPP suggest that a new, southern egress route would improve evacuation scenarios throughout the GFPD. We have entered into an agreement with Genesee Foundation to investigate the feasibility and cost of a new emergency-access-only road from the southern part of the GFPD to route 74. You can access the feasibility study here. There are many challenges to building a new roadway including cost and, potentially, agreement(s) from private property owners. The analyses in the CWPP may help us secure some grant funding to offset the cost, but even under the most optimistic circumstances, completion of a southern egress will be several years away.

The designation of “non-survivable” is used for segments of roadway where, if there were a flaming front of an active wildfire, a driver stopped on the roadway might not survive. More specifically, these are areas where modeling predicts that due to the surrounding vegetation, there would be flame lengths in excess of 8 feet (a threshold where the intensity of heat output is such that firefighters cannot attack the flame front directly). Again, it is important to remember that these modeling results assume extreme weather conditions and apply only to a situation where the flame front has already reached the roadway. These modeling results, as well as the evacuation time modeling, will inform the strategy for issuing evacuation notices sooner rather than later.

Mitigation actions along non-survivable sections of road can increase the chances of survival for residents stranded in their vehicles during a wildfire. Where these roadway segments are part of key evacuation routes, they will be a particularly high priority for mitigation to reduce fuels and therefore potential flame lengths. Most of the impacted areas include private property. We will work with HOAs (which own some of the property) and property owners to discuss recommendations for mitigation and explore grant funding to help offset the cost of doing the work. See Section 5d. of the CWPP for suggestions on creating roadway fuelbreaks.

There are also segments of non-survivable roadways on driveways, private drives and secondary roadways. These areas have a lower priority for mitigation because they are not part of key evacuation routes. However, residents on these roadways are encouraged to work together to mitigate these parts of their evacuation routes. Contact the wildland specialist at GFR (ddalton@geneseefire.org) for recommendations on how to a get a neighborhood effort started.

As the CWPP shows, the District is at risk of a catastrophic wildfire that starts within or near our District and moves rapidly due to extreme weather conditions. While the likelihood of this happening is low, the risk is, nonetheless, real. Because of our current limited egress routes, there are life safety concerns that need to be addressed. An additional egress route from the south side of the District has the potential for reducing evacuation times across the District, especially from the southern portion of the District, and it would provide a secondary evacuation route if the primary route becomes blocked or otherwise impassable. An additional benefit of building a southern egress route is that it will provide tactical opportunities for protecting the District from a fire threatening or in the southern portion of the District.

Spending more money on mitigation can reduce, but not eliminate, the life safety concerns associated with evacuation. Moreover, many of the areas that would need to be mitigated to reduce our risk are outside of the District; mitigating those areas requires not just money, but also the cooperation of the property owners.

In theory, an evacuation drill could provide useful information and better prepare our residents for an evacuation. However, it cannot adequately simulate the scenario of an active wildfire threatening or within the District. The CWPP analyses of evacuation times assume that the entire District (and neighboring Riva Chase) receive an evacuation order simultaneously and that all residents are at home and evacuate with one or two vehicles. While these assumptions could be considered “worst case” they aren’t really since they do not take into account the impact of an emergency situation with visibility limited by smoke, flames from an active fire front and the existence of non-survivable roadways. Because evacuation issues can lead to life safety concerns, it was important to understand the potential risks and how the risks might be mitigated.

The District did have an evacuation drill in 2013 (on a sunny Saturday morning in April) in cooperation with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office. There was a lot of advance notice about the drill. In total, about 400 cars evacuated and, of these, about 150 evacuated prior to the evacuation notice being issued. The only people who experienced a greater than 30 minute time to evacuate were those who delayed leaving after the evacuation notice was issued. The difference between what was experienced here and the predictions in the CWPP illustrate the limited utility of an evacuation drill. That the situation in an active wildfire can be very different from what was practiced in evacuation drills is illustrated by what happened in the Camp Fire in Paradise, California (watch the Frontline episode, Fire in Paradise.)

The best way to prepare for an evacuation is to be sure that you are registered to receive emergency evacuation notices and have an evacuation plan in place (see answers to the FAQs above for more information). Jefferson County has done tests of its reverse 911 system (CodeRED) in past years and we will be working with them to test this system within the District in the near future.