WILDFIREColorado Law Will Require Homes to Be More Wildfire Resistant

By Jennifer Oldham

Published 16 May 2023

The state will develop building standards for homes in high-risk areas after ProPublica’s reporting showed previous efforts to require fire-resistant housing materials had been repeatedly stymied by developers and municipalities.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed into law Friday a bill that mandates a statewide wildfire-resistant building code, a step that scientists say will help protect residents and first responders as climate change intensifies blazes.

The bill creates a 21-member board charged with developing standards for new and substantially remodeled homes in high-risk areas, including rules for using fire-resistant construction materials and clearing vegetation around residences. The board — which will include building industry representatives; urban and rural residents and government officials; an architect; fire officials; and insurers, among others — must be appointed by Sept. 30 and adopt a minimum building code by July 1, 2025. The law requires the code to be reviewed every three years.

The measure passed after a ProPublica investigation found that Colorado regulations hadn’t kept pace as mega fires, fueled by extreme weather, threatened the state’s urban areas. Legislative efforts to require fire-resistant materials in home construction had been repeatedly stymied by developers and municipalities, while taxpayers shouldered the growing cost of fighting the fires and rebuilding, ProPublica found.

“Articles like ProPublica’s helped drive the awareness that we are all in this together,” said Mike Morgan, director of the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention & Control, in an interview Friday at a fire station in the Rocky Mountain foothills.

The new law “gives us the opportunity to start looking at ways to build homes safer,” he said, gesturing to nearby residences hidden among towering pines. “This will normalize fire-resistant construction over time.”

Until Friday, Colorado was one of only eight states that didn’t have a minimum construction standard for homes.

Polis signed the bill inside an Inter-Canyon Fire Protection District station, which is in an area at high risk for wildfire, about 25 miles southwest of downtown Denver. He also signed a measure providing more resources to fire investigators and another to bolster the workforce dedicated to thinning vegetation and setting prescribed burns, measures intended to better protect forests and residents from wildfire.

The lack of uniform regulations cost the state $101 million in grant money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s resilient infrastructure funds between fiscal years 2020 and 2022. The state’s applications were denied, in part, because Colorado didn’t have a statewide building code.

Polis lauded the bill establishing a wildfire-resiliency code, saying it will make the state better able to compete for such federal grants.