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Fire Marshal: Stricter codes might have cut Waldo Canyon fire losses

By: RYAN MAYE HANDY
November 13, 2012
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	 Photo by The Gazette file
Photo by The Gazette file 

If a series of proposed fire code changes had been implemented before the Waldo Canyon fire hundreds of destroyed homes in Mountain Shadows might have survived, Colorado Springs Fire Marshal Brett Lacey told City Council Tuesday night.

“A pretty significant number of homes would have survived had these changes been implemented,” Lacey said. “I think the number would have been around 100 or less, in terms of homes destroyed.”

Lacey’s findings were based on an on-going investigation he is leading into how 346 homes in Mountain Shadows burned on June 26. Lacey has provided the community with some insight into how homes burned and why — and it all comes back to flying embers that ignited wood siding and shingles, and snuck into attic vents. Lacey told council the investigation is not complete.

The suggested fire code changes were drafted in late July, and have yet to be approved by council. But, to obtain building permits, residents of Mountain Shadows and their contractors have been voluntarily signing pledges that they will abide by the more stringent codes.

The code approval process was forestalled in early September when council directed Lacey and the fire department to gather public opinion on the suggested changes. On Tuesday, Lacey returned with the results of the three-question survey, which targeted Mountain Shadows residents.

The first two questions focused on how residents learned about the codes, and if the information provided was helpful. The third question, about whether or not the codes should be implemented, showed residents at an almost even split: Of the 180 people who participated, 47 percent said yes to the codes, and 41 percent said no. The remainder didn’t have an opinion.

Lacey presented six options for council to consider, five of which include changes and the sixth being no change. Lacey and fire department recommend codes that require such things as fire-resistant materials and landscaping changes in all rebuilding or new construction in foothills neighborhoods.

At least two of the options would require retroactive changes to landscaping in neighborhoods in so-called red zones. Lacey said such changes would be “difficult.”

Council will take up the proposed code changes in two weeks.

Council President Scott Hente, a Mountain Shadows resident, supports revised fire codes.

“The changes are so insignificant cost-wise, and so common sense that any builder’s going to look at that and say, ‘Heh, no big deal’,” Hente said.

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