Biggers available to analyze fire risk |

Biggers available to analyze fire risk

Post Independent Photo/Jim NoelkerRon Biggers, fire protection analyst for the Glenwood Springs Fire Department, points out how vegetation can be thinned to protect a home from wildfire.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Ron Biggers wants people to know he’s not going to strip the vegetation from their yards if they call him.

“People think if I come out, I’m going to ask them to clear-cut their property,” said Biggers, the fire protection analyst for the Glenwood Springs Fire Department. “That’s the perception, but it’s not the case.”

Instead, when a homeowner calls Biggers to come out and analyze their property for wildfire mitigation, he determines the fire danger around the home, and what the homeowner can do to lessen the chance for wildfire. (See box below for details.)

“You don’t have to cut everything,” Biggers said.

Actually, far from it. Biggers said simply weeding out dead and overgrown vegetation can help.

“You want to think in terms of fuel load,” he said. “Fuel is required for any fire to burn.”

That is, the more flammable fuel that is around a home, the better chance the house has for catching fire in the event of a wildfire.

The Zilm family lives in one of those beautiful log houses that looks like it’s come right from the pages of a Colorado mountain lifestyle magazine.

Perched high above Four Mile Road south of Glenwood Springs, the log house butts up against BLM land to the west and offers a drop-dead view of Mount Sopris to the east.

Last week, Biggers visited the Zilms’ house. He’d done an analysis of the place with homeowner Mark Zilm earlier in the week, and got Zilm’s OK to use the property as an example for wildfire mitigation.

Biggers said one of the first things he looks for is a property’s defensible space. The distance varies by the type of wildland vegetation growing near the house and the steepness of the terrain, he said.

Biggers calculated, based on the steepness of the slope, that the Zilms’ house needs about 150 feet of defensible space on the downhill side, with graduated vegetation levels ” less vegetation near the house and more on the outskirts.

“Fire moves two to three times faster when it moves uphill,” he said. “When it’s moving uphill, it’s preheating the fuels above, causing a heat wave. And it doesn’t need flame to ignite. Leave a hair dryer pointed at a piece of wood long enough and it’ll ignite.”

Biggers said one of the best ways to think of protecting structures from wildfire is to “play like an ember.” Embers from a nearby wildfire can ignite homes.

Think of all the crevices, eaves and gutters an ember could get stuck in, and clean out or cover those areas as much as possible, he said.

For example, Biggers said he’s seen a broom leaning up against a house burst into flames after embers landed on it. The same goes for combustible doormats.

“You add embers to that type of material and you’ve got a fire,” Biggers said. “A little thing like that sets off something big.”

In the case of the Zilms’ log house, Biggers noted that logs that had cured and split could catch passing embers.

“It’s a good idea to seal those up,” he said.

On Thursday morning, Biggers was out walking through the serviceberry bushes and oak brush above the Zilms’ house. He pointed out the bright red surveyor’s tape he placed in a 30-yard semi-circle around the back of the house a few days earlier, and offered some suggestions.

“We want to give the property a chance of survival in the event of a wildfire,” Biggers said. “Of course, there are no guarantees, but you can do a lot to lessen the threat.”

Biggers said since Zilm wants to do fire mitigation himself, he sectioned off the area closest to the house for him to tackle first.

“He can work on thinning this area,” said Biggers. “He doesn’t have to do it all at one time.”

Biggers said private companies also offer fire mitigation services for homeowners if people don’t want to do the work themselves.

The important thing is to do it. Whether a house sits on a steep mountain slope, or in the middle of town, every homeowner can create a create a safer scenario in the event of a wildfire.

“People think, ‘It’s never going to happen to me,'” Biggers said. “You have to remember, fire is a natural part of our environment. People are getting better, but it’s continual education.”

Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518

Ron Biggers, fire protection analyst for the Glenwood Springs Fire Department, is available to analyze properties within the Glenwood Springs Fire Protection District. There is no charge for this service. Call 384-6433 to set up an appointment.

Regional fire departments have published an informative guide for homeowners, “Living with Wildland Fire.” Ask Biggers about getting a copy.

Biggers said federal grants are now available, up to $1,200 in matching funds per homeowner, to help with the costs of wildfire mitigation. Contact Biggers for details.

Biggers also recommends the following suggestions for wildfire mitigation:

– Shrubs should be spaced about 15 feet apart on the downhill side of the structure. Clumps of vegetation should have 15-foot spacing between crowns on the vegetation.

– Enclose the area underneath decks; don’t give flying embers a place to get started.

– A fuel break such as a stone wall, green lawn or rocks should be maintained around a house

– Clear out dead brush and thin trees.

– Clump vegetation into groups. When cutting out entire bushes, treat stumps with herbicides to keep them from growing back.

– Keep grass watered and mowed to six inches or less around structures.

– Keep a garden hose connected to an outlet.

– Clean roof surfaces and gutters regularly to avoid accumulation of flammable materials.

– Remember that potting soil is flammable and may catch fire if it gets hot enough or if it’s touched by an ember.

– All combustibles such as firewood, boats, picnic tables, etc., should be kept away from structures.

When building:

– Determine how easy your property is to access, for a fire engine and other emergency vehicles.

– Use nonflammable roofing materials such as metal or asphalt instead of wood shingle.

– For decking, use nonflammable materials instead of wood.

– Biggers recommends the book, “Firewise Construction,” by the late architect and fire expert Peter Slack, available from the Colorado State Forest Service.

” Carrie Click, Post Independent Staff

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