Following the loss of homes to wildfire, local governments have a unique opportunity to guide recovery and rebuilding. However, little is known about recovery and adaptation after wildfire, in comparison to other natural hazards.
Colorado Springs, Colorado: In the before picture on the left, there is a lot of dead vegetation, overgrowth of grass, and the trees don’t have natural boundaries between them. All of these items are fuel for a wildfire. In the after picture, all of the dead vegetation and tall grass was removed, and the trees have natural boundaries. Steps like these will greatly reduce the spread of wildfires in the City of Colorado Springs.
Colorado suffered unprecedented losses from the Front Range wildfires of 2010–2012, with three fires that each destroyed 150 homes in three locations (Boulder County, Larimer County and City of Colorado Springs). In each location, government support for recovery was prominent, rebuilding was a fundamental part of recovery, and all government policy responses were quickly designed and implemented.
Because these areas already had wildfire-specific regulations that governed building materials and vegetation mitigation around homes, all rebuilt homes were built in a fire-adapted manner. However, there was also extensive rebuilding and reinvestment in hazard-prone environments.
Despite suggestions that disaster can lead to substantial policy change and elevate the role of land-use planning, only modest reforms were made.
- Local governments did not revise land-use regulations.
- A statewide task force considered but did not require standards for building and vegetation mitigation.
- Only one jurisdiction strengthened its building and vegetation mitigation standards.
Experiences in Colorado suggest that time after wildfire either does not provide extensive opportunities for adaptation in the built environment, or that these opportunities are easily missed.
- When wildfires destroy homes, local governments fall under tremendous pressure to facilitate a “return to normal” through rebuilding; however, there can also be long-term needs for rebuilding assistance and education.
- While individual homes were rebuilt in a more fire-resistant manner, there were no larger land-use reforms or planning efforts, and the extent of residential development after wildfire is expected to return to its previous footprint.
- Wildfire response has much in common with other disasters across settings, suggesting governments can learn from other hazards and communities. With other hazards, planners suggest planning for recovery before disaster strikes, and using land-use planning tools such as temporary freezes on building permits, provisions for change in land-use regulations, and damage thresholds for changes in building standards to guide government response to disaster and encourage adaptation.
- When homes are lost to wildfire, communities in exurban and urban environments have some similar challenges, but also key differences. Rebuilding will generally be faster in urban areas, where homeowners can quickly rebuild primary residences with the help of insurance payments, and without some of the physical and logistical challenges of recovery and rebuilding in more rural settings.
Mockrin, M. H., Stewart, S. I., Radeloff, V. C., & Hammer, R. B. (2017). Recovery and adaptation after wildfire on the Colorado Front Range (2010-12). International Journal of Wildland Fire, 25, 1144–1155. https://doi.org/10.1071/WF16020 & http://www.treesearch.fs.fed.us/pubs/52897
Mockrin, M. H., Stewart, S. I., Radeloff, V. C., Hammer, R. B., & Alexandre, P. M. (2015). Adapting to Wildfire: Rebuilding After Home Loss. Society & Natural Resources, 28(8), 839–856. https://doi.org/10.1080/08941920.2015.1014596 & http://www.treesearch.fs.fed.us/pubs/49020
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