The Wildfire Adapted Communities Project
The Wildfire Adapted Communities Project was established to create awareness around the risk of wildfire in the Roaring Fork Valley and stimulate mitigation efforts through education and community engagement. In partnership between The Aspen Fire Protection District, The City of Aspen and the Aspen Community Foundation the development of a wildfire risk assessment map that could be accessed by community members was created to meet the goals of the Wildfire Adapted Communities Project. The wildfire risk assessment map contains several layers of information available to the user but the two most vital, the natural environment and the manmade environment, are the focal points for which the map was built around. The natural environment risk layer captures vegetation, topography, neighboring land features and many other elements inherent to a defined land area. The manmade environment risk layer illustrates the risk we create at our homes and other structures by examining the building design and materials, vegetation density at and around a structure, access to and from the structure and many other human influenced characteristics of a property. Once a homeowner or resident can understand the risks faced by their property, they can develop a plan to lessen those risks. The wildfire risk map of the Wildfire Adapted Communities Project aims to be the first step towards a greater community reduction in wildfire risk exposure.
Like many fire departments in the state of Colorado, Aspen Fire has long offered wildfire risk consultations to any resident that called and asked for one on their property. During the summer of 2013 we realized that beyond just providing residents with wildfire mitigation recommendations during our consultations we should look at our overall wildfire risk for the property. We looked to the Colorado State Forest Service and their wildfire risk scoring matrix but quickly realized it was generalized for the whole state and did not accurately reflect what we were seeing in our community. Working alongside wildfire risk assessors from Basalt Fire and the Interagency USFS BLM we were able to create a scoring matrix that was specific to the Roaring Fork Valley and our unique vegetation models and topography. After a summer of data collection and proof in concept that our scoring matrix was sound, we created our first version of a risk map. That led to our second realization of the year, there are a lot of structures in our district and our piecemeal approach of simply responding to requests for assessments would never create a usable risk map for a single neighborhood, let alone the entire Aspen Fire Protection District. Given our resources at the time, this second realization brought the hopes of a wildfire risk map to a halt, but idea had taken hold and belief in its benefit were undeniable.
By the summer of 2014 the ideas of what a wildfire risk map looks like were evolving for Aspen Fire. Earlier that spring we were introduced to The Anchor Point Group out of Boulder, Colorado and their National Hazard and Risk Model (No-HARM) and suddenly the concept of visiting each property for a risk rating was replaced with Geographic Information System (GIS) data layers. The Anchor Point Group had collected satellite images of known fuel/vegetation models, geographical and topographical elements of land features and created an algorithm that examined how each interacted and affected neighboring areas. While there was no data layer in No-HARM that captured the micro view of each individual property’s details it did provide the macro view of the area and overall wildfire risk of the lands captured in each fire shed. Ultimately it was decided that even if the risk map lacked structure specific details, knowing and being able to illustrate the risk faced by the property was hugely beneficial. By the end of 2016 we partnered with the City of Aspen to purchase the No-HARM product to replace the older and opinion driven risk maps that were in circulation in planning and preparedness efforts.
Equipped with the No-HARM product and all the data it provided, Aspen Fire continued to offer individual risk assessments and work to educate all that would listen about the risk of wildfire in our community. We knew we had a great tool to illustrate the wildfire risk in the natural environment but lacked the means to face it toward the public and the ability to combine it with our individual assessment findings. Even with these limitations we still held on to the belief that one day we would be able to offer a community accessible risk map.
Following the mid valley’s Lake Christine Fire in the summer of 2018 the topic of wildfire risk and risk reduction were frequent points of discussion in all corners of our community. In the fall of 2018, a series of wildfire focused community discussions, sponsored by the Aspen Community Foundation, were had up and down the Roaring Fork Valley. After seeing such a strong interest in wildfire preparedness, Aspen Fire was approached by the Aspen Community Foundation with a single statement and a single question. Simply put, the Aspen Community Foundation said, “we want to help reduce wildfire risk in our community, so are there any programs or projects we can support?” It did not take much deliberation for us at Aspen Fire to respond that we indeed have a program that aligned with those goals ready to go. Aspen Fire’s long shelved wildfire risk mapping concept that included both micro and macro data and that could be accessed by community members was finally becoming a reality.
In the spring of 2019, the Wildfire Adapted Communities Program was officially established, and its goal defined, “The goal of the Wildfire Adapted Communities (WFAC) project is to significantly reduce the existing wildfire risk to homes throughout the Roaring Fork Valley.” The wildfire risk mapping component of the project was going to be the vehicle to carry the project forward with three simple steps.
- Inform. Through “curbside assessments,” estimate the existing wildfire risk levels of all individual homes and neighborhoods in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) and communicate these risk levels through color-coded maps accessible online to the public.
- Engage and Educate. Offer interested Aspen Fire Protection District (AFPD) homeowners an additional free, on-site focused visit with a more detailed and personalized risk assessment of their home.
- Stimulate Action. AFPD homeowners who request an on-site, focused assessment will receive a specific and personalized action plan with concrete steps they can take to reduce their home’s wildfire risk.
Over the summer of 2019, Aspen Fire personnel, with technical support from Pitkin County’s GIS Department, were able to conduct over 5300 curbside risk assessments throughout the Aspen Fire Protection District, finally completing the necessary data capture that was identified more than 6 years prior. With the existing No-HARM product and field gathered data from the curbside assessments, the Anchor Point Group was brought back in to help design and create an intuitive wildfire risk map interface that any member of the public can easily access.
March 2, 2020 – Seven years after the first seeds were planted for a community focused wildfire risk map for the Aspen Fire Protection District the concept has become a reality. While the project may still hold onto the initial idea, what the project came to encompasses has grown immensely. The Aspen Fire Protection District was fortunate to find partners in the City of Aspen and the Aspen Community Foundation along the way, whos’ support and resources made the project possible. We and the project have been propelled forward by an active and engaged community with whom we share the common desire for safety through shared responsibility. While the map may be complete in the fact that it is available to the community, the project will never be done, the world changes, our community changes and the map must evolve and develop to reflect those changes. The Wildfire Adapted Communities Project and the wildfire risk map it employs must me a living element that requires attention and care to thrive and produce a measurable benefit to the residents, visitors and above all the community we all call home.
Will my insurance company raise my rates based on the risk rating found on the map?
We spoke to several large insurance companies prior to launching the project and were informed all already have their own risk criteria they must follow and our map and the way it is presented does not provide any more information than the insurance companies already have. Several company representatives we spoke with believed that with the knowledge their clients may gain from our program, a homeowner may actually see a reduction in their rates through mitigation efforts they may have not pursued in the past.
Will or can my risk rating change?
Yes, that is the goal of the project. We hope this map is a living representation of near current risk. If a homeowner makes an effort to reduce their risk through hazard mitigation or hardening of their structure(s), Aspen Fire will re-evaluate the structure and/or property and update the risk rating. Aspen Fire will also update a risk rating score after conducting a detailed risk assessment of a property if greater or clearer information is gathered than what was seen from the initial curbside assessment. Aspen Fire has adopted an update cycle and will revisit all curbside risk ratings within five years of the previous assessment.
Have other fire departments or fire districts conducted wildfire risk mapping before?
While we wish we could take credit for the idea, wildfire risk mapping has been around in different forms for some time. The first public facing risk map we are aware of was created by the Colorado Springs Fire Department in the early 2000’s and focused on all properties in the defined Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) zone. CSFD Map Link In recent years, others such as Eagle County and the City of Boulder have also created wildfire risk mapping programs as a way for to grow public awareness and create a catalyst for risk reduction. Each program manager we spoke to stated that the risk mapping and the criteria used to create it was specific to their area and project goals.
What is No-HARM and is it a bad thing?
No-HARM is not as scary as it sounds, it is actually an acronym for the National Hazard and Risk Model. No-HARM is a versatile, mapping product customized at the local level and designed to assess exposure of critical infrastructure and property to wildfire impacts. No-HARM was created by the Anchor Point Group from Boulder, Colorado, a company who develops and supports risk-based wildland fire solutions. For more information on No-HARM or the Anchor Point Group please click here.
No-HARM Information Sheet (PDF)
Risk Map Contributing Factors Highest to Lowest (PDF)
Risk Map Questions Points (PDF)
Risk Map Question Breakdown (PDF)