Ken-Caryl: Living in the Wildland Urban Interface
If your home is located in the natural vegetation of Ken-Caryl’s grasslands, shrub areas or foothills, you live in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) and are inherently at risk from a wildfire. The WUI is any area where our homes meet or intermingle with wildland vegetative fuels. In many vegetation types, it is not a matter of if a wildfire will impact your home, but when.
Wildfires are a natural part of Colorado’s varied forest ecosystems. Communities such as Ken-Caryl are located in areas historically prone to frequent natural wildfires. Living in the WUI requires more self-reliance than living in urban areas. Planning ahead and taking actions to reduce fire hazards can increase your safety and help protect your property. As more people choose to live in areas prone to wildfire, additional homes and lives are potentially threatened every year. Firefighters always do their best to protect residents of the WUI, but ultimately, it is our responsibility to protect family, pets and property from wildfire.
The Ken-Caryl Firewise Board supports education and promotes community awareness of wildfire risks. In order to effectively protect subdivisions and communities, all Ken-Caryl residents must work together to reduce fire hazards within and adjacent to communities. This includes treating individual home sites and common areas within communities, and creating fuel breaks within and adjoining the community where feasible. Homeowners can take steps to reduce wildfire hazards on their property and enhance the safety of their families.
Start inside your home – preparing your family with a family evacuation and communication plan. These steps focus on beginning work closest to your house and moving outward. Also, remember that keeping your home safe is not a one-time effort – it requires ongoing maintenance. It may be necessary to perform some actions, such as removing pine needles from gutters and mowing grasses and weeds several times a year, while other actions may only need to be addressed once a year.
Fuels Feeding a Wildfire
The most significant fuels with the potential for the spread of fire include our houses. While Plains and Valley are not heavily forested, houses burning during a major wildfire event in Ken-Caryl can spread the fire rapidly to other homes. The 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire is an example of the rapid spread of fire from house-to-house in a neighborhood very similar to Ken-Caryl. Wildfires spread by a combination of a moving fire front and airborne burning and glowing embers. Building loss during wildfires occurs as a result of some part of the building igniting from one or more of the three basic wildfire exposures, which include embers, radiant heat and direct flame contact. Embers are light enough to be blown through the air (but embers the size of your fist can be carried by intense winds commonly seen on Red Flag Warning days in Colorado).
Embers can result in the rapid spread of wildfire by spotting, in which embers are blown ahead of the main fire, starting other fires. Should these embers land on or near your house, they could just as easily ignite nearby vegetation or accumulated debris or enter the home or attic through openings or vents, igniting furnishings or combustible debris in those locations.
Near-home ignitions will subject some portion of your house to either a direct flame contact exposure, where the flame can touch your home, or a radiant heat exposure (the heat you feel standing next to a campfire or fireplace). If the fire is close enough to a combustible material, or the radiant heat is high enough, an ignition will result. Even if the radiant exposure is not large enough or long enough to result in ignition, it can preheat surfaces and thus make them more vulnerable to ignition from a flame contact exposure. With any one of these exposures, if no one is available to extinguish the fire and adequate fuel is available, the initially small fire will grow into a large one.
One of the misconceptions about home loss during wildfires is that the loss occurs as the main body of the fire passes. Research and on-the-ground observation during wildfires have both shown that the main flame front moves through an area in a very short time: anywhere from 1 to 10 minutes. Homes do not spontaneously ignite—they are typically lost as a result of the growth of initially small fires, either in or around the home or building.
When fuels are abundant, a fire can be uncontrollable and destructive. But when fuels are scarce, a fire cannot build momentum and intensity, which makes it much easier to control and is more likely to be beneficial to the land. The more dense and continuous the fuels, the bigger the threat they pose to your home. Heavier fuels, such as brush and trees, produce a more intense fire than light fuels, such as grass. However, grass-fueled fires travel much faster than heavy-fueled fires.
Creating Defensible Space
Creating defensible space doesn’t necessarily mean denuding your property with a barren 30-foot swath around your home. In general, it entails creating space devoid of fuels and placing less flammable materials closest to your home. Preparing your home and property is a necessity as we are residents of the Wildland Urban Interface. It is important to adequately modify the fuels in your home ignition zone. Remember, every task you complete around your home and property will make your home more defensible during a wildfire. Always remember that creating and maintaining an effective defensible space in the home ignition zone is not a one-time endeavor – it requires an ongoing, long-term commitment.
Join the Ken-Caryl Firewise Board for an educational evening on Wednesday, Sept. 14 from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Shaffer Room at the Ranch House. The Firewise Board, West Metro Fire Rescue and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office will present several topics on wildfire risks, mitigation, preparation and evacuation.
This article appeared in the Aug. 24, 2016 issue of Life at Ken-Caryl.