Rifle’s fire protection workshop generates affordability questions

Adopting stricter fire codes for Rifle’s residential subdivisions could prevent the sort of destruction wreaked last year by the Marshall Fire in Boulder County, a city official said.

The December 2021 brush fire consumed nearly 1,100 residences just northwest of Denver.

“This is what we’re trying to prevent,” Rifle Building Inspector John Nihiser said.

Nihiser joined Colorado River Fire Rescue Prevention Division Chief and Fire Marshal Orrin Moon in introducing new regulations that could change the materials contractors use to build houses.

Any newly adopted regulations would fall in line with the International Wildland-Urban Interface Code. The standards require builders to use ignition-resistant materials for exterior features.

In Rifle’s case, the standard would apply to subdivision developments near the city’s fringes, Moon said.

“That’s how codes have been developed,” he said. “People have died. Buildings have been burned down.”

But changing building codes could be costly and can financially burden contractors. Rifle City Council member Brian Condie said he was concerned new regulations could hinder attainable housing opportunities not just in Rifle but Garfield County as well.

Condie also pointed out that Garfield County’s wildland fire susceptibility map shows the majority of Rifle falling under no-risk areas. Meanwhile, he said that 97% of fires are started within a home, and it would be more beneficial to give homeowners fire extinguishers than to implement new building codes.

“We’re going to be having people make these improvements that’s not going to give them any benefit,” he said.

Rifle City Council member Joe Carpenter said added safety features can be minimal in relation to insurance discounts.

“The discounts they’re talking about are teenie, tiny discounts,” he said

Rifle City Council member Chris Bornholdt said he can argue the proposal to adopt new regulations either way but that he thinks it’s a good idea.

“I’ve actually been in the field after a wildfire, looking at houses and seeing houses that have this type of stuff done to it,” he said. “The house is standing, everything else is gone. The house next door didn’t have that, and the house burned down.”

Rifle City Council member Alicia Gresley echoed Bornholdt’s comments.

“It’s a really hard one because the cost to rebuild when a whole community burns down? You’re not just rebuilding a house, you’re rebuilding people’s lives,” she said.

Further discussions over fire safety protocols on future agendas, Rifle Planning Director Patrick Waller said.

“I don’t think it’s going to be if it’s going to happen here,” Moon said. “I think it’s when it’s going to happen here.”

Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or

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