Report: Only California has more homes at risk from wildfire in West than Colorado

February 26, 2015
Photo: Waldo Canyon Fire burning in Colorado Springs
The Waldo Canyon Fire burning on Courtney Lane in Colorado Springs in 2012.

More than 49,600 homes across Colorado are at very high risk for damage from a wildfire, according to a new report by the analysis firm CoreLogic. That places Colorado second highest across 13 western states topped only by California.

In all, 49,667 homes in Colorado are at very high risk from wildfires compared to 50,905 in the Golden State.

The report essentially ranks properties for their risk of wildfire damage in two ways.

First there’s a ranking measuring wildfire damage from “low to very high risk” based on characteristics inside the property boundary. For example, is there defensible space on the property or is it in a wooded or urban area?

Then that property risk is combined with a numerical score of 1-100 which takes into account not just the risk on-property, but also how close it is to the nearest area of high or very high risk of wildfire.

Confusing?

The study uses the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire as an example.  According to CoreLogic data, 322 of the 347 homes destroyed in the Waldo Canyon fire were considered “urban”, and in the low wildfire risk category.

However, it’s likely that most of those homes were damaged by wind-driven embers that traveled from “higher-risk areas outside property boundaries.” It’s for that reason CoreLogic believes basing a property’s wildfire risk on the burnable fuel inside its boundaries only can overlook the actual risk.

The report takes a closer look at three western metro areas including Denver, Aurora and Lakewood as a cross section of western wildfire risk. San Fancisco/Oakland/Hayward, California and San Antonio/New Braunfels, Texas were also explored.

All have homes near the ever growing wildland urban interface, or WUI, and therefore hold a higher risk for fire overall.

Of the homes in the Denver, Aurora and Lakewood study area, 17,860 are at very high risk for wildfire damage within their property boundaries. However, when you add in the area’s total wildfire risk score, the number of properties considered at very high risk from wildfire tops 35,174.

Although Colorado and much of the west hasn’t seen the type of large scale wildfires seen in the early 2000’s it doesn’t mean that wildfire risk is decreasing. The report concludes that one large fire in or near an urban area could cause tremendous damage, especially as more homes are built in and near the WUI.