Fourmile Fire Rebuild Forums and Boulder County meeting

Last night was the first of three Rebuild Forums held in Boulder to assist property owners who are considering rebuilding after the recent Fourmile Fire.  The event was held in the East Boulder Senior Center and consisted of a series of presentations as well as informational/marketing tables staffed by local builders and architects.  Sponsored by BGBG, the 15 St. Desgin District and AIA North, the event was well-attended, if though most of the attendees appeared to be local tradespeople rather than homeowners.

The following is a list of the presentations that were scheduled for last night.

  • Integrating Your Insurance Claim With Design And Construction Scott deLuise, Matrix Business Consulting
  • Rebuilding After The Fire: Boulder County Site Review & Permitting Clean Up Gary Goodell, Boulder County
  • How To Work With An Architect Joseph Vigil, AIA, WORKSHOP8 architecture | planning | design
  • Choosing A Contractor Keenan Tompkins, Michael Johan, Kim Neill Cornerstone Contracting, Center Management Group,    Cottonwood Custom Builders
  • Demystifying the Rebuilding Process Matt Dumler, Rob Kimbrough       MD Builders, Chinook Construction

There are two remaining Forums of similar fashion, Sunday October 3rd, also at the East Boulder Senior Center.  Presentations for those sessions include:

  • Integrating Your Insurance Claim With Design And Construction Chris Rockers or Ronald Harsch, Matrix Business Consulting
  • County – Clean Up County Staff, Boulder County
  • Build Smart Mark Bloomfield, Sustainably Built
  • How To Work With An Architect Harvey Hine, AIA HMH architecture & interiors
  • Choosing A Contractor Keenan Tompkins, Michael Johan, Kim Neill    Cornerstone Contracting, Center Management Group, Cottonwood Custom Builders
  • Fire-Wise Landscaping and Revegetation Carol Adams, Studio Terra, Inc.
  • Fire Resistant Construction Techniques Ron Flax & Fire Marshal, Rodwin Architecture
  • County – Permitting County Staff, Boulder County
  • The Wisdom of Green Building Dave Barrett, Barrett Studio Architects

I will be there Sunday at 1pm with portfolio in hand to answer any questions and describe our experiences so far with working with rebuilding homeowners.   I will not be giving a presentation, much to everyone’s relief.

In addition to these Forums there is a meeting on Thursday, September 30th at 11:30am at the BOCC Hearing Room (Courthouse, 3rd Floor) being sponsored by Boulder County to discuss some much anticipated changes to the Site Plan Review and permitting processes for the Fourmile Fire victims.  This is the meeting I think we have all been looking forward to and hopefully we can all leave with some solid answers to questions like:

  • Can my old septic system be re-used?
  • Do I have to go through the full Site Plan Review process if I am only going to add a few hundred square feet?  Or move the house a bit?
  • Can I put a temporary building on my site to live in while I rebuild?
  • Will the County’s Transferable Development Credits program include fire-damaged sites?
  • Will the County inspect current road access issues to determine their conformance with current code?
  • Will there be significant changes to either the Wildfire Mitigation or Ignition Resistant Construction regulations?

rebuilding assistance to the Fourmile Fire firefighters

Some folks (myself included)  in the local building and design community have gathered together to help the local firefighters who lost houses in the recent Fourmile Fire.  They have set up a website and put out this press release:

Local design and building community reaches out to Fourmile fire fighters:

A number of local architects, engineers and other members of the design and building communities to offer their services at no, or low cost, to emergency responders who lost their homes in the recent Fourmile Fire in Boulder County.

The recent wildfire has been devastating.  So many people have lost their homes and sense of place.  But no one lost their lives.  And even though all those structures burned, hundreds of others were saved by the heroic efforts of hundreds of firefighters.  Most striking of all is that some of those firefighters, local volunteers, lost their homes to the fire while trying to save others.

As members of the local design and building community we would like to do what we can.  So a number of us have gathered together to make the following offer:  if you’re a local emergency responder and your home was lost in the recent fire, we will design/redesign your house for no fees.  Many other services, engineering, surveying, cost advice, etc. we can do for substantially reduced costs.  You may just want to have a few questions answered or a bit of advice or an entire house design. However you may need us, we will try to help.  Just let us know.


Bryan Bowen Architects

Y. Rosemary Fivian, Architect

M. Gerwing Architects

Gomez and Lawrence Architects

DAJ Design

Julie La Prie

Lisa Laursen

Jim Walker



Jon X. Giltner


Drexel, Barrell & Co.


Studio Terra


Drexel, Barrell & Co.


Cottonwood Custom Builders

There are a number of other resources out there, including the Boulder County Land Use Department and Red Cross.  In addition, the Boulder Green Building Guild will be holding a Rebuilding Forum on Thursday, Sept. 23rd and Sunday, October 3rd.  You can get info on that here.

fighting wildfires with building design

The ongoing Fourmile Canyon fire immediately west of Boulder has brought to light the necessity of doing the work to make “defensible space” around your home.  In a city like Chicago, defensible space  means good lighting and safe streets, but here in the Rocky Mountain West it means wildfire mitigation and ignition resistant construction.  It is not only for new construction, every property owner should take heed and can take action now to help protect themselves and their property.

few or no trees immediately surrounding house
vegetation cleared from around house

Boulder County has a two-pronged approach to designing houses and landscapes that can withstand moderate wildfires.  The first is by using only building materials that are ignition resistant.  This does not mean fireproof, but does mean avoiding the use of wood roofing, as in shakes and shingles, and decks.  Even on vertical surfaces, like siding, the wood materials are to be backed by a layer of 5/8″ thick fire resistant gypsum sheathing.  The day of the start of the Fourmile wildfire had the humidity at less than 10%.  If you combine that with the drying effect of high altitude sun, you will see that any exposed wood, in just a season or two, quickly becomes blistered and cracked and is prime kindling.  Thicker sections of wood, like heavy timber are acceptable as they generally surface burn leaving enough material unharmed within to still provide sufficient structural integrity.  The most common mistake is to not fireproof the undersides of overhanging decks and eaves.  Hot gases and embers roll uphill and can catch underneath these projections igniting the entire structure.

very little or no exposed wood and distance between trees and structures
ignition resistant stucco and concrete

Of course most of the concern in these mountainous wildfire zones is concentrated on not starting fires in the first place.  Any houses larger than 3,600 square feet are required to be sprinklered and many locations require substantial fire-fighting water storage cisterns to run that system for a period of time.  A recent project of ours required a 30,000 gallon cistern – about a swimming pool’s worth of water – to be stored on site in semi-buried tanks with fire hose connections.  Fires that start inside houses should not be allowed to set the entire mountain of fire.

hardscape surrounding house
hardscapes around house can be beautiful, not stark

The final part of the defensible space planning is to undertake wildfire mitigation efforts.  These can be done with new or existing structures and essentially boils down to getting rid of wildfire fuels around the immediate area of the house.  It does not mean that you have to live within a perimeter of gravel, but there are zones extending out from the house that reduce bushes and trees to create a fire break between the structure and the surrounding forest.  These zones are based on Boulder County’s Wildfire Mitigation Plan requirements and, in the case of new construction, are inspected prior to occupation of the finished building.

Wildfire Mitigation Plan with defensible zones

It is often painful to cut down trees and remove plantings on the beautiful sites that client’s choose to live.  We architects often complain that the wildfire field inspectors are a bit too quick to clear-cut a hillside.  When we lived up in the mountains it was a hard and painful task, but I cut down some 20+ trees from the area immediately surrounding our house and put many of these zone precautions in place.  This fire should remind us all that these are all simple and necessary parts of living in the mountainous West.

ignition resistant construction
transitions from natural to man-made landscape surrounding house

None of these actions will guarantee that a fire does not devastate your house and property.  However, taking these necessary steps will help the firefighters save your home and will demonstrate to them that you have done all you could do to keep them safe while they work to save your house.

Hoping that all the houses shown above, homes of clients and friends, all located in or near the evacuation zone, are safe in the current fire.  Anyone not in the immediate fire zone but still up in the wildfire interface area of the mountains, contact Boulder County Land Use or the Colorado State Forestry department and they can conduct a review of your property and give great advice on how to take the best measures to protect your house and your selves.  Please do it now.