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Nov 3, 2013 10:57 PM by Tony Spehar - tspehar@koaa.com

State and local leaders pushing for more wildfire mitigation

After two straight summers of devastating forest fires, leaders locally and statewide are trying to reduce the threat of wildfires.

The recovery process in Black Forest continues and some are doing better than others at coping with the loss of their homes and property in this summer's wildfire.

"This is a life changing experience, we are going to look forward not back," described Harold Haver, who lost his home. "I will miss our friends, all 37 houses on our street burned, every one of them."

Haver lost everything when the fire tore through his neighborhood along Brentwood Drive, but he has already started the process of building a new home on a new plot of land.

"We jumped on very quickly, the demolition," he explained. "Our house was standing because it was all brick, as was my workshop, so it was kind of depressing to see the skeleton there and all the rubble."

After living through the fire Haver decided to relocate to an area with less trees and has a fire hydrant, still mitigation will be a top priority.

"You would think that since it's burned once it couldn't burn again, but there's still enough fuel there," Haver said, looking out a charred trees along Black Forest Road.

It's true that there is still potential for more destructive fires in Black Forest, it's something Black Forest Fire Protection District Chief Bob Harvey keeps track of.

"The magnitude of the fire could repeat itself at least two more times within the Black Forest Fire District with the fuel beds, the loading and the volatility that we have," Chief Harvey described.

Harvey explained that his crews are trying to work with landowners to do mitigation work, rather than stressing the creation of defensible space where fire fighters can defend a home Harvey said he tells homeowners to focus on "survivability" which entails clearing out enough of an area for the home to survive without fire fighters. A lesson learned from the Black Forest Fire was that there weren't enough fire fighters to defend every home and, with many roads ending up in dead ends, there were many areas where it wasn't safe to send crews in at all.

In the past week the Colorado Wildfire Matters Review Committee passed eight bills regarding wildfires that will be considered by state lawmakers in the 2014 legislative session. If approved the bills would allow local governments to mandate removal of trees deemed a fire danger, limit agricultural burning and fireworks, allow the state to pay private companies for mitigation work and create a tax credit for mitigation work. Other bills would supply grants for fire fighters safety training, give death benefits to the families of fallen fire fighters and create a state wildfire information and resource center.

"It would make the process easier because then it would be mandated, of course this is America we don't like mandates," Chief Harvey said of the proposed laws.

Harvey said even if the proposed laws fail to be passed, changes by insurance companies will likely require homeowners to increase mitigation efforts and take other actions in order to get insurance. Whether or not the laws are approved by lawmakers, he said his crews will continue to try and work out a system to convince and assist homeowners in protecting their property.

Harold Haver said, when it comes to mitigation, he doesn't need any convincing.

"I will continue to do some fire mitigation on the old lot, just to help manage the forest and increase the safety," he explained.

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