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News Release

Date: July 25, 2012

Assessment on the Fourmile Canyon Fire completed and available online

FORT COLLINS, Colo. – One of the key findings of the Fourmile Canyon Fire assessment, released in final form today, is that homeowners' actions are the most important factor in protecting their homes from a wildfire.

The Fourmile Canyon Fire Findings was completed by a team of scientists led by Dr. Russ Graham with the U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. Its release was announced by Senator Mark Udall earlier today.

"Colorado is experiencing one of the most severe fire seasons on record this year. The Fourmile Canyon Fire was in many ways similar to the fires that have threatened Fort Collins, Colorado Springs, and other Colorado communities this year," Udall said. "As we look ahead to future fire seasons, the Fourmile Canyon Fire has many lessons for firefighters, homeowners and land managers. We need to learn from these past fires and work together to adopt a strong, balanced, approach to forest management."

Until this year, the 2010 Fourmile Canyon Fire was considered the most destructive fire in Colorado history. Just days after the fire destroyed 168 homes, Senator Mark Udall requested that then Governor Bill Ritter and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack conduct a comprehensive assessment of the fire in an effort to learn from this incident and focus on reducing the risk of future catastrophic fires to communities in the Wildland-Urban Interface.

The preliminary findings on the Fourmile Canyon Fire were released in October 2011. The preliminary findings were reviewed and comments were submitted by land managers from the U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region, Colorado State Forest Service, and the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management to the Assessment Team for consideration as they finalized this scientific study. Responses to all comments and a summarized list of individuals contacted by the Assessment Team during the course of the scientific study are provided in appendices in The Fourmile Canyon Fire Findings.

Key findings in the assessment include:

  • Wildfires are a common occurrence on the Front Range Mountains of Colorado. Research shows that over the past 40 years, large fast-moving fires like the Fourmile Canyon Fire, occur about every two years, and are associated with high winds and extremely low humidity.

  • Fuel treatments were often focused on improving the health of the forest, developing safe travel corridors, and to create wildfire defendable zones using a shaded fuel break near homes and communities. Surface debris from the treatments had not been removed in many instances either physically or by prescribed fire. Thus, the efficacy of the fuel treatments was very limited.

  • Eighty-three percent of home destruction did not directly result from exposures to surrounding high intensity crown fire and this is consistent with other WUI fire disasters. Although exact ignition causes are not known, without high intensity exposures, home destruction must be due to direct firebrand ignitions and/or surface fire spreading to contact the home.

  • Significantly reducing the potential for WUI fire disasters during extreme burning conditions depends on a homeowner creating and maintaining a home ignition zone or HIZ - the design, materials, and the maintenance of the home including the area 100 feet around it.

"The Fourmile Canyon Fire Assessment Team was tasked to provide a scientific review of how the Fourmile Canyon Fire burned, the damage it caused and how people and agencies responded in order to better reduce the risks of, and response to, future wildfires on the Front Range of Colorado. Given the complexity of the fire and multiple land jurisdictions, this assessment could not have been accomplished without the information and scientific data provided by the US Forest Service, Colorado State Forest Service, BLM, Boulder County, local fire districts, and individuals involved with the fire," Dr. Sam Foster, Rocky Mountain Station Director said.

The Fourmile Canyon Fire Findings (Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-289) and the following information handouts: The Fourmile Canyon Fire Assessment Q&A's and Fact Sheet, and the Wildfires in the Colorado Front Range Fact Sheet are now available online at www.fs.fed.us/rm/pubs/rmrs_gtr289.html.

The RMRS is one of seven regional units that make up the U.S. Forest Service Research and Development organization – the most extensive natural resources research organization in the world. The Station maintains 12 field laboratories throughout a 12-state territory encompassing the Great Basin, Southwest, Rocky Mountains, and parts of the Great Plains, and administers and conducts research on 14 experimental forests, ranges, and watersheds, while maintaining long-term databases for these areas. Our research is broken into seven science program areas that serve the Forest Service as well as other federal and state agencies, international organizations, private groups and individuals. To find out more about the RMRS go to www.fs.fed.us/rmrs. You can also follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/rmrs_hq.



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Other Agency Media Contact Information:

Janelle Smith, U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region, 303-275-5359, janellesmith@fs.fed.us, www.fs.usda.gov/main/r2/home

Ryan Lockwood, Colorado State Forest Service, 970-491-8970, ryan.lockwood@colostate.edu, csfs.colostate.edu

Steven Hall, Bureau of Land Management, 303-239-3672, sbhall@blm.gov, www.blm.gov/co/st/en.html

Dan Rowland, Boulder County, 303-441-3399, drowland@bouldercounty.org, www.bouldercounty.org

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