Thirty miles northwest of Denver, Colorado, on the front range of the Rocky Mountains, Boulder County encompasses 10 municipalities among vast public lands including parts of a wilderness area and Rocky Mountain National Park. The county is a world-class recreation area and destination for a growing high-tech workforce. Much of this scenic landscape is highly prone to wildfires.
Boulder County has endured several large fires, most notably the Fourmile Canyon Fire in 2010 that burned a critical watershed and resulted in $217 million in insurance claims.
In response to this risk, Boulder County has undertaken several efforts to improve planning around the wildland-urban interface (WUI). CPAW and Headwaters Economics profiled Boulder County in 2016 as a leading urban community. Boulder County’s unique strategies include:
- Specifically addressing wildfire in the Comprehensive Plan. Identifying community objectives and guiding future development throughout the county, the Boulder County Comprehensive Plan explicitly incorporates wildfire. Development in higher-risk, mountainous areas requires special consideration of building construction and design, landscaping, defensible space, access, and water availability.
- Detailed Community Wildfire Protection Plan. The Boulder County Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) is an exemplary online document including 45 maps and links to video interviews, homeowner insurance information, and more. The plan was created through a collaborative process between hundreds of residents, fire personnel, and administrative staff. Its purpose is to protect property and save lives, enhance the environment, and promote a sense of community.
- Individual Property Assessments. Complementing the county CWPP and regulatory efforts is an innovative countywide program called Wildfire Partners. Launched in 2014, this unique public-private partnership is funded by Boulder County and grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the state Department of Natural Resources. Wildfire Partners helps property owners conduct site assessments with hazard mitigation specialists, provides a customized report that prioritizes risk-reduction actions, subsidizes mitigation costs, provides wildfire advisory contacts, and conducts follow-up inspections. Property owners within the designated Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) are eligible to participate. Homeowners who complete recommended risk reduction actions are issued a certificate that can be submitted to insurance companies. Certificates can also be uploaded for real estate property records. In two years the program has reached more than 8,000 property owners, conducted more than 700 site assessments, and issued 172 certificates.
The CPAW team sees Boulder County efforts as great examples of collaboration. Municipal fire departments engage with land use planning departments to identify priorities for wildfire protection. Developers are notified early and provided clear information about wildfire risk reduction requirements. Homeowners are supported in their efforts to reduce wildfire risk. Working together, Boulder County communities protect their lands and abundant natural resources.
Read more about Boulder’s innovative strategies in this report.
- Population (2015): 319,372
- Growth Rate (2000-2015): 19%
- Fuel Type: Open grasslands, pine and mixed conifer stands, mature forests with heavy downed wood.