New development in small Colorado towns threatens to overwhelm fire evacuation resources, raising alarm among local residents.
As populations in Western towns grow, development increasingly encroaches on fire-prone areas—and this has residents in one small Colorado community worried, write Shannon Najmabadi and Olivia Prentzel. The unincorporated town of Conifer, population 8,000, exemplifies the issues faced by communities at the periphery of urbanized areas where new developments threaten to overwhelm local water supplies, evacuation routes, and other fire suppression resources.
Between 1990 and 2010, the number of housing units in the wildland urban interface in Colorado increased 74% and more than 40% of the state’s housing units were nestled there in 2010, according to a report from the nonprofit Community Wildfire Planning Center. The acreage of the interface is projected to grow 300% by 2030 compared with 2000, according to a Colorado State University analysis.
Peter Dunbar, a former police chief experienced in fire evacuations, called the plan to add 188 new housing units to Conifer, where just one road leads out of town, a "recipe for disaster."
Residents of other Colorado towns echo these concerns, calling on their cities to include evacuation times in development permits and take steps to ensure safe evacuations in communities with limited exit routes, rough terrain, and scarce water supplies. Even as developers continue to build denser housing in zones with high fire risk, Western wildfires have grown more intense than ever and 'fire weather' days grow more and more common.
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