CASTLE ROCK – Megan Dieckmann’s home in an upscale neighborhood in this Douglas County town 30 miles south of Denver is shaded by towering pines and surrounded by clusters of Gambel oak – wild turkey rafters pecking at the ground just steps from her front door.
The Pinon Soleil area in northern Castle Rock is also designated a “very high risk” fire hazard area, according to the City’s Wildfire Protection Plan, passed last week.
The plan states that “flammable outbuildings, decks, ledges and fences” as well as “decayed wood plantings” and “natural and ornamental vegetation near the buildings” pose a threat to dozens of families living there.
It’s a hazard rating that has taken on a more poignant meaning and severity since a wildfire broke out in southern Boulder County less than a month ago, destroying nearly 1,100 homes and damaging 149 more – a disaster many homeowners never thought possible in a remote suburb. several miles. from fire hazards.
“You just have to know that the danger is there,” Dieckmann said, looking at the late afternoon shadows cast by the ridges and headlands that loomed over her home. “In these windy days, I will be much more vigilant.”
Dieckmann is not alone. Castle Rock’s wildfire protection plan, which took several years to develop but was only approved by city council on January 18, divided the city of 80,000 people and 24,000 homes into 19 zones. Seventeen of these zones were rated as “high” or “very high” wildfire risk, while only two zones in the city fell into the “moderate” risk category.
No parts of Castle Rock were considered to be at low or extreme risk.
Norris Croom, chief of the Castle Rock Fire and Rescue Department, said that while the city’s new wildfire plan is critical for identifying hotspots, fuel loads and susceptible building materials – and hopefully getting ahead of fires once they’ve ignited – there are certain weather and environmental conditions. conditions that cannot be cornered or limited by even the most capable firefighting forces.
“When you add in external factors, especially on that windy (Marshall) fire day, there’s not much you can do,” Crum said. “When Mother Nature decides she’s going to do it, there’s little we can do to stop it until she decides to calm down.”
He pointed to seven houses that burned down in the Meadows area on the west side of Castle Rock nearly four years ago. In this case, a fire that started in one house quickly spread downwind to half a dozen others before firefighters could bring it under control.
But in a part of the Front Range that has experienced its share of wildfires over the past 20 years: the Hayman Fire (2002), the Cherokee Ranch (2003), the Burning Tree (2011), Waldo Canyon (2012), and black forest (2013) – Krum said a new plan to protect Castle Rock from wildfires would help point out ways to minimize damage from the vast majority of burns.
“This is to ensure that the typical wildfire we see here does not turn into a major disaster,” he said. “This plan will help reduce the risk – it won’t eliminate the risk.”
In addition to calling on residents to create a defensive space around their homes, in which trees and bushes near the structure are cut down to deprive the fire of fuel, the Castle Rock plan talks about building houses with fire-resistant materials and creating a “connected defensive space.” or fireproof perimeters around groups of houses that were built close together.
The plan, developed by Boulder-based wildfire consultancy Anchor Point Group, also notes the challenge of keeping the city’s nearly 6,000 acres of parks and open spaces and 95 miles of trails from becoming “fire highways.”
“Development plans encourage open space islands between clusters of homes where natural fuel has been preserved,” the plan says. “These factors have created a patchwork of islands and bands of fossil fuels found throughout the city.”
But these natural areas are a big part of Castle Rock’s appeal. Carol Reed’s home southeast of downtown is adjacent to Memmen Ridge open space and receives a “very high” risk rating from the city’s plan. Reed, a 43-year-old resident of the Glover neighborhood, is well aware of the fire hazard posed by the land behind her home, which the city’s wildfire protection plan describes as containing “heavy fuels” – specifically “flammable islands of oak brush.”
“We saw wildfires burning close enough that we could see an orange glow on the horizon,” Reed said. “I still feel safe here.
But she said there was no doubt that the Marshall fire, 50 miles north, had brought her and her neighbors a “heightened awareness” that they might not be as safe as they thought.
City Council member Caryn Johnson calls the Marshall fire a “wake-up call” for Castle Rock. She says one of the biggest challenges for a fast-growing city is striking a balance between the inspiration and awe that the open and rolling landscape around the city provides to its residents and visitors, and the fatal potential that the same land has, if ever. will burn in the fire.
“Finding that balance is hard, but we’re hoping to find something that makes Castle Rock look like open space and keeps our residents safe,” she said.