DENVER – People who live in wildfire-prone areas should be charged a fee to help pay for fire safety projects, a group advising Gov. John Hickenlooper said Monday.
The recommendation is one of many in the Wildfire Insurance and Forest Health Task Force’s report. Hickenlooper put together the group in January, before the state endured its second-consecutive record-setting fire season.
The report’s release comes as Hickenlooper’s administration is focused on flood recovery.
“You might say we’re between hell and high water,” Hickenlooper said. “Even as we’re recovering from the flood, though, we cannot look away from lessons learned in the wildfires.”
The report calls for dramatic steps to encourage – and in some cases force – forest residents to take more responsibility for protecting their homes from fire.
The task force hedged on whether to call for a statewide building code, to mandate the use of fire-resistant materials and the clearing of brush around houses. Instead, it asks Hickenlooper and the Legislature to consider a range of options, from a statewide code to withholding state aid to counties with inadequate building codes.
The ideas were controversial among task force members from lobby groups for local governments, homebuilders and real estate agents.
Hickenlooper also stopped short of endorsing a statewide code. Instead, he pointed to Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach, who attended the report’s release, and said if Bach’s conservative city could adopt a strict building code, then any county in Colorado could do the same.
“I’m not sure the state needs to mandate this,” Hickenlooper said, adding that he and his staff have not yet decided which of the report’s recommendations to pursue.
The task force’s main recommendation calls for a major upgrade to the Colorado State Forest Service’s wildfire risk map, to allow it to rate individual homes on fire risk. Currently, the online map is capable only of rating larger parcels of land.
A home’s fire risk rating could be used to cajole homeowners or neighborhood associations into clearing brush and trees. Fire departments, insurance companies and real estate agents could also use the tool. Homeowners with bad ratings would be able to ask for an appeal or a new rating after performing fire mitigation work.
Another controversial recommendation is a fee on all forest residents. The amount of the fee was not specified in the report, and it could vary depending on local needs for fire safety projects, said the task force’s chairwoman, Barbara Kelley, executive director of the state Department of Local Affairs.