DENVER – As Colorado’s population continues to grow, more people than ever are now living in areas at risk of being affected by wildfires.
The Colorado State Forest Service said Monday that between 2012 and 2017, the number of people living in at-risk areas increased by nearly 50 percent to a total of approximately 2.9 million people. Colorado's population in 2017 was estimated at about 5.6 million people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
That means half of all Coloradans live in areas susceptible to wildfires.
A community is considered at-risk if it’s within a wildland-urban interface (WUI) area where development is within or close to a natural area with flammable vegetation.
The new wildfire risk assessment is the result of a major update to the Colorado Wildfire Risk Assessment Portal (CO-WRAP), an online mapping tool that provides data on wildfire risk, historic fire data and other important factors.
"We have updated the data and information for the Colorado Wildfire Risk Assessment through 2017," said Amanda West, manager of science information for the CSFS. "These data include new vegetation fuels derived from satellite imagery, new population and housing density data, and new weather data."
West said there are three major reasons for the increase in WUI population; there is a general trend in population growth in the WUI, ongoing land use changes in these areas, and updates/refinement of the source data compared to the 2012 Colorado Wildfire Risk Assessment.
“With the continued increase in Colorado’s wildland-urban interface population, it’s critical for landowners and communities to take actions to reduce their risk and address forest health concerns,” said state forester and CSFS Director Mike Lester. “The Colorado State Forest Service provides necessary resources to assist forest landowners and WUI communities to make their forests healthier and safer.”
Individual homeowners can focus on reducing risks by creating defensible space around their homes. The CSFS says that includes clearing trees, leaves and other fuels to slow the spread of fire near your home.
To access CO-WRAP, click here. It’s important to note that data in the CO-WRAP system is meant to be used on a community-wide or watershed-wide basis and shouldn’t be used to assess fire risk for individual homes. It also isn’t meant to assess current fire danger, which can fluctuate due to changes in the weather and other factors.