Colorado Project Wildfire Partnerships Gaining State and National Attention
Colorado REALTORS® continue to play vital role in educating homeowners on wildfire mitigation and safety efforts as programs take hold
Despite a relatively calm Colorado wildfire season in 2019, REALTORS® across the state have significantly grown their proactive efforts to help educate homeowners about wildfire risks, prevention and safety resources through CAR’s Colorado Project Wildfire. Colorado Project Wildfire’s innovative partnerships and program successes are now getting the attention and accolades from a growing list of state and national wildfire focused organizations.
With more than half of our state’s population now living in a wildfire prone area and Colorado ranked third in the nation for homes located in areas with high wildfire risk, a growing number of our REALTOR® associations and members understand the critical role they can play to reduce wildfire risk.
Through CAR members and local association leadership, Colorado Project Wildfire programs have been created and nurtured across numerous mountain and Front Range communities through strategic partnerships with key stakeholder groups.
Colorado Project Wildfire programs continue to focus on efforts that are founded in education, awareness and mitigation by individual property owners and communities alike. Together, we are continually gaining ground by delivering critical resources and support to local residents, as well as fire and safety officials implementing a wide range of community education events aimed at homeowners in very specific Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) areas.
While high profile media expo-sure of wildfires, similar to what we’ve seen in California over the past year or what is currently happening in Australia, raises general awareness, it is the local and personalized events, communication, education and training that are making the biggest impact on residents and driving behavior.
These diverse programs range from annual awareness events to year-round programming. Some highlights from these local programs include:
SUMMIT ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® – Distribution of SAR’s fifth annual wildfire education piece to 12,000 single-family and lot owners in Summit County. The information is designed to educate property owners on the need for voluntary defensible space to protect the community and ward off potential state mandates through voluntary efforts. In addition, SAR promotes the free County Chipping program, which has been an important part of community engagement. The annual mailer also promotes SAR’s REALTOR® Volunteer Work Days to help clear slash from properties for the county chipping program, and SAR’s Defensible Space Grant Program.
There are approximately 31,000 year-round residents in Summit County with approximately 18,000 single-family homes. To date, more than 11,000 homes/parcels have participated in the Chipping Program over the past six years – a more than 60 percent participation in a taxpayer approved, publicly funded, social program, according to CSU Summit County Extension Office Coordinator Dan Schroder.
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STEAMBOAT SPRINGS BOARD OF REALTORS® played a key role in planning and implementing a Spring 2019 two-day conference targeting industry stakeholders and the public. Following the success of the event, which was attended by more than 75 wildfire and safety professionals and 200 members of the public, the Association is helping drive the creation of a Wildfire Council in Routt County that will include representation from various governmental agencies, city and county officials, HOA representation, insurance industry representation, and REALTORS®.
“These next steps are all a direct result from our two-day Wildfire Conference where we were able to engage the stakeholders, as well as the community at large,” said Steamboat Board of REALTORS® CEO Ulrich Salzgeber. “We found economies of scale during this process that should make everyone’s efforts streamlined, more effective, and save taxpayer money by eliminating duplication of services.”
BOULDER AREA REALTOR® ASSOCIATION – the Association and its members continue to be a proactive partner in the Boulder Wildfire Partners mitigation program to help homeowners prepare for wildfire. The program is funded by Boulder County, a $1.5 million grant from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and a $1.125 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Wildfire Partners is a nationally recognized model for wildfire mitigation that is incorporated into Boulder County’s building code. The program, which offers home/property assessments by paid evaluators, delivers site specific recommendations, access to financial and other resources, and a certification upon completion. Wildfire Partners went over the 2,000-home certification mark in Boulder County during the past year.
“Our success is based on our ability to tailor our message down to the homeowner,” said Wild-fire Partners Program Coordinator, Jim Webster. “We used to do group trainings with 50 plus people from a community group, now it’s all about one on one, here is what’s relevant to your home, your situation. Yes, it’s slower and more expensive but, it works. We’ve done training with REALTORS® in Boulder and Longmont and look forward to growing our established relationships.”
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VAIL BOARD OF REALTORS® – the Association continues to pro-actively implement the successful REALFire®, a voluntary property assessment program piloted in Eagle County. The REALFire® pro-gram helps residents identify specific actions they can take on their property to reduce wildfire hazards. The program was inspired by REALTORS® engaging with residents on wildfire safety and education.
REALFIRE® property assessments provide residents with many benefits:
- An in-depth, on-site assessment conducted by experienced fire professionals
- An opportunity for property owners to identify mitigation actions unique to their property
- A detailed follow-up report with customized mitigation actions designed to measurably reduce the wildfire risk to their property
- An opportunity to earn a REALFire® certificate acknowledging their mitigation achievements. This type of recognition can be used to enhance real estate transactions and can be shared with local insurance providers.
“We’ve seen some very impressive results from our efforts not just in partnering with local fire-fighting agencies and experts but the residents of those specific communities,” said Colorado Project Wildfire Taskforce Chair Mike Budd. “From the earliest and on-going efforts of our members in Summit County to cutting edge programs here in Eagle County, Boulder, Colorado Springs, Montrose, Estes Park, Crested Butte and more, we’re getting more and more individuals involved and taking advantage of the re-sources that already exist in their communities to help them protect and in most cases improve the safety, functionality and value of their property.”
These long-term efforts and mounting program successes have not gone unnoticed.
“Over the course of the past few years, our Colorado REALTOR® members have not only been invited to the table for these important discussions and planning but we’ve significantly expanded our voice and role in creating meaningful education, awareness and solutions to our state’s wildfire mitigation needs,” said Elizabeth Peetz, CAR Vice President of Government Affairs.
Expanding stakeholder partnerships
A key step in the growth of Colorado Project Wildfire over the past 18 months has been the formation of strategic partnerships with organizations including the Colorado and U.S. Forest Service, Colorado Division of Fire Prevention & Control, Ready, Set, Go!, Colorado Firewise Communities, Fire Adapted Colorado, and the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association (RMIIA).
Working in cooperation with these stakeholders, Project Wildfire has been able to create and share distribution of joint stakeholder news releases, partner website links, industry education events/conferences, newsletter/publications, and media interviews.
Together we have delivered access to a diverse range of resources and recommendations to help Colorado citizens prepare for and respond to wildfires, including:
- A consumer-focused Colorado Property and Insurance Wildfire Preparedness Guide featuring best practices in wildfire mitigation, defensible space, safety and insurance preparation for property owners, frequently asked questions, and direct links to a wide range of local community resources for residents. The guide, funded by the Colorado Association of REALTORS® Foundation, is available at ColoradoProjectWildfire.com. Tens of thousands of these guides have already been distributed to residents through a cooperative distribution program with our Project Wildfire partners.
- The Colorado Wildfire Risk Assessment Portal (CO-WRAP), hosted by the Colorado State Forest Service, is an online mapping tool that provides access to statewide wildfire risk assessment information: www.coloradowildfirerisk.com.
- Early warnings save lives – The Colorado Office of Emergency Management works to ensure that Colorado residents are aware of potential threats in their communities, including wildfire risks and hazard evacuation notices so residents are able to take action. Currently, only 20 percent of Coloradans are signed up for the free emergency alert notification system alerts. Register today by going to www.bitly.com/COAlertSignUp and finding the link to your county emergency alert program.
- Register every cell phone in the home
- Receive alerts by text, phone call or email
- Keep information up to date
In addition to these critical partnerships, CAR and Project Wildfire representatives have been tapped to present program initiatives and share partnerships at state and national wildfire conferences including:
- Firewise Community Workshops
- National Cohesive Strategy Workshop (Mass.)
- Colorado Wildfire Matters Re-view Legislative Committee
- Colorado Homeland Security and All-Hazards Senior Advisory Committee
- Colorado Fire Commission
- Colorado Chartered Property Casualty Underwriters (CPCU)
- Community Planning Assistance for Wildfire (CPAW) Land Use Planning Forum
The stakeholder team will also be presenting in March at the National WUI Conference in Reno, Nevada with CAR represented by Sarah Thorsteinson, Executive Di-rector of the Summit Association of REALTORS®.
Thorsteinson has also been appointed as one of just a few private-sector members of the state’s first Fire Commission. Established in 2019 through the approval and signing of SB19-040, the Fire Commission operates under the Colorado Department of Public Safety. The Commission is made up of 24 voting members and a minimum of seven ex-officio members, including Thorsteinson, authorized to develop task forces and help find solutions to a wide range of issues that impact Colorado’s fire service. In addition, the Commission aims to enhance public safety in Colorado through an integrated state-wide process focused on the fire service’s capacity to conduct fire management and use, preparedness, prevention and response activities to safeguard lives, property and natural resources.
“I’m honored to have been asked to serve on the commission as an ex-officio member representing property owner interests,” said Sarah Thorsteinson. “It is my hope to influence outcomes where the property owner is affected whether it’s wildfire funding mechanisms, wildfire preparedness, and defensible space, or homeowner education. I’ll be serving on the subcommittee for funding mechanisms which will look specifically at how to better fund fighting fires across our state.”
“Project Wildfire delivers an innovative approach to introducing what have generally been non-traditional partners – REALTORS® and the insurance industry – as a leveraging force for sharing cur-rent knowledge and best practices about wildfire action and preparedness to achieve a condition in which residents can be adapt-ed to wildfire and live with it comfortably,” said Daniel Beveridge, Wildfire Mitigation Program Specialist for the Colorado State For-est Service. “After all, wildfire has been and always will be a part of life, particularly in the American West.
“Our greatest success over the past year was elevating knowledge of the program to a level higher than it has been before. Delivery of the concept to an audience at a national workshop will hopefully promote similar strategies in other locations and move the needle toward greater awareness and action at the homeowner level. Site-specific risk reduction activity has grounding in clear science and offers a foundation for real change in the future.”
From an insurance industry perspective, Colorado is in many ways ahead of the curve of many Western states in developing and supporting model community mitigation projects. Partnership efforts have focused on best practices for using the science provided through the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IIB-HS) and other partners to protect property through mitigation.
As an industry, we understand the importance of insurability of these properties and are working with residents and other stakeholders to be a part of the solution to reduce that risk,” said Carole Walker, RMIIA executive director. “That’s why we’ve joined forces in Colorado to educate and provide key resources to our insurance and real estate companies and agents. These are trusted advisors who are in a position to have the mitigation conversation at a critical point when homeowners have a financial incentive to safeguard their properties.
“Together, we’ve opened up a dialogue between our Colorado insurance, REALTOR®, fire, forest, and government partners that allows us to share information, address challenges and strategize on solutions to reduce wildfire risk.”
Thanks to long-term and ongoing education and mitigation efforts taking place in high-risk WUI communities across Colorado, wildfire officials are experiencing a pleasant surprise over the past few years: fewer homes and lives are being lost to wildfires.
Colorado Project Wildfire’s growth has been instru-mental in delivering con-sistent and creative fire mitigation information and access to resources. That’s a win-win for wildfire personnel and residents throughout the state and a positive shift that can be attributed, in part, to in-creased awareness of risks and actionable mitigation efforts by those living in WUI areas.
For more information visit www.ColoradoREALTORS.com/projectwidlfire