Black Forest fire board approves stronger fire code
El Paso County commissioners have to approve
Black Forest homeowners who are rebuilding after this summer's wildfire may have to pay more. The town's fire board voted Wednesday night to change the fire code. It means a few thousand dollars added to rebuilding new homes.
Fire Chief Bob Harvey said the change will also make it easier for those homeowners to get or keep insurance.
Harvey said the last update to the town's fire code was in 2003.
"We've been wanting it for a long time, but the homebuilders' associations haven't been on board with it until now," he said.
Harvey said the summer wildfire has created a new sense of urgency to provide residents with more protection with the new fire code.
The updated code, said Harvey, requires residents to mitigate and protect their homes more than they do now. Some residents worry that will be a burden on many elderly homeowners who are unable or can't afford to do the work themselves.
Harvey said the updated code affects only new construction, and recommends that owners of larger homes install interior sprinkler systems or cisterns. The cost of those ranges from $10,000 to $30,000, he said.
Harvey emphasized, however, that sprinklers won't be required for every home. It will simply be a recommendation for large homes.
A suggestion for the updated code, Harvey said, is to create a rural water fund to pay for providing more water to homes during a fire. He said the fund would require a one-time cost, an average of $5,600. Such a fund already exists in the nearby Falcon District, he said.
If you drive through Black Forest, you can see tools are coming in handy as people start to rebuild.
"We had done mitigation as recommended by the fire department. We had the 30 feet with no trees. We had rocks and cement all around our home," said homeowner Linda Hinton.
That wasn't enough to save her Hinton's home from burning. So she and a big crowd came to the Black Forest fire board meeting.
Board members put together a list of new fire codes in hopes of stopping another forest fire. Potential fire code changes include: fire-resistant siding, deck materials and banning plastic culverts.
"Stuff that the insurance company is going to start mandating is going to be a determinant if people are going to keep their homes. And believe me, some of their standards are much more stringent than this code is," said Harvey.
Several homeowners are worried that the updated code would significantly raise rebuilding costs.
"I don't believe that this should be a knee-jerk reaction to a disaster. I don't believe that the people who have been hurt the worst to be punished the most and have all of the responsibility place on their shoulders," said Hinton.
Homeowner David Hunter said he felt differently. "To make the houses better, safer, I think that's reasonable," he said.
"In one part of Mountain Shadows, the cost went up around $6,000," said. Harvey "I think it'll be less than that in Black Forest. Better to pay a little up front than a lot more later after a fire."
Even with the changes in place, Harvey said, a fire that reaches more than 10 feet off the ground makes the fire code practically useless.
"When it reaches the third dimension, which is the crown fire run, there's nothing that survives," he said.
With the board's decision, the code will now require final approval by El Paso County commissioners.
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