Preliminary OK given for tougher foothills fire codes

December 11, 2012
photo - Fire officials say fewer homes would have burned during the Waldo Canyon fire if tougher building codes had been in effect when Mountain Shadows was built. Photo by Gazette file
Fire officials say fewer homes would have burned during the Waldo Canyon fire if tougher building codes had been in effect when Mountain Shadows was built. Photo by Gazette file 

Mountain Shadows residents whose homes were destroyed by the Waldo Canyon fire must follow stricter and what city officials called smarter fire codes if they rebuild.

The City Council gave preliminary approval Tuesday to fire code changes the Colorado Springs Fire Department says will make homes in the foothills more fire resistant and reduce property losses in the event of another wildfire. Final approval of the more stringent fire codes is scheduled in two weeks.

“We’re allowing people to maintain their same architectural features, just build it with smart products that are not going to be as flammable as what they had prior to the fire,” Deputy Fire Marshal Kris Cooper said after the vote.

The Fire Department proposed the changes after the Waldo Canyon fire destroyed 346 homes. Fire Marshal Brett Lacey has said that hundreds of homes might still be standing had the tougher fire codes been in place.

The fire code changes will apply only to rebuilds and new construction on vacant lots, not to existing structures. They will cover the entire hillside overlay zone, which spans from Broadmoor Bluffs to Peregrine and includes Mountain


“The hillside overlay is somewhere around the neighborhood of 40,000 lots. It’s my understanding there’s only about 8 percent of the lots left to be built upon,” Cooper said.

The changes have sparked opposition from some residents as well as city officials, including City Councilwoman Angela Dougan, who cast the lone dissenting vote Tuesday.

“I appreciate the work here, but this is such a government overreach,” said Dougan, who worries that residents affected by the fire will incur additional costs to rebuild.

The city is working with lenders to “establish a means for low-interest loans” for homeowners, though the program is a work in progress, Cooper said.

The program is designed to help homeowners “bridge that gap to help them get back on their feet and be able to rebuild their homes,” he said.

Colorado Springs Fire Chief Rich Brown said the fire code changes will result in no more than $6,200 in additional costs for homeowners.

“A cost analysis from HBA reveals that it’ll be from zero up to about $6,200 max for the cost differential if this code is passed,” Brown said, referring to the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs, which supported the fire code changes.

Mayor Steve Bach had expressed reservations about supporting a new fire code that would force residents who lost their homes to incur additional costs to rebuild.

The mayor was not at Tuesday’s meeting, and his office did not return a message seeking comment.

The changes are meant to improve safety, Brown said.

“We know there’s no fail-safe system out there,” Brown said. “In fact, there are other communities that have adopted a lot more stringent codes as a result of fires throughout their communities. What we’re trying to do is to do the best job we can with increasing the ignition resistance.”

Council President Scott Hente, a general contractor who said he is “in the process of either repairing or rebuilding homes in the area,” recused himself from the vote.

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