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May 12, 2023

Signed! New Laws to Protect Colorado Communities from Wildfires

MORRISON, CO – Governor Jared Polis today signed into law three bills to help Colorado communities prepare for and mitigate wildfires.

SB23-166, sponsored by Senators Lisa Cutter, D-Jefferson County, and Tony Exum Sr., D-Colorado Springs, and Reps. Meg Froelich, D-Englewood, and Elizabeth Velasco, D-Glenwood Springs, will help communities and Coloradans living in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) defend homes and property from catastrophic wildfires by establishing a statewide wildfire resiliency code board charged with establishing proven building codes to better protect structures against increasingly common wildfires. 

Local governments in the new WUI area will be required to adopt the model code or a code of their own that meets or exceeds minimum standards.

“An increasing number of wildfires that burn hotter and move faster are our new reality, so we must act now to protect our homes and businesses and create more resilient communities,” said Cutter, sponsor of SB23-166, SB23-013, and SB23-005. “Fires anywhere in Colorado affect all of us -- our water, air, economy and recreation. Creating minimum building standards and working to better understand the origins of fires just makes sense. These new laws will help us provide the tools and workforce necessary to better defend our communities against wildfires, and I'm thrilled to see them signed into law.”

“We’re building smart to protect Coloradans who live in the wildland-urban interface from catastrophic wildfires,” said Froelich. “Wildfires do not recognize local boundaries, which is why our law will develop evidence-based minimum building standards to protect our homes and businesses. Smart and flexible building standards will fortify our neighborhoods and reduce wildfire destruction."

“Wildfires do not respect boundaries, and when it comes to growth in the wildland-urban interface we need a statewide policy that reflects that,” Exum Sr. said. “Our legislation will set smart and flexible standards that protect families, homes, and businesses against increasingly dangerous wildfires. I am proud to champion this important new law that will defend people and property.”

“With destructive wildfires repeatedly devastating Western Slope communities, it’s important that we build strong, resilient structures to safeguard our neighborhoods and livelihoods,” said Velasco. “This law establishes a plan to implement wildfire-resilient building codes across local governments to ensure we’re reducing the risk of wildfire displacement and destruction. We’re taking an important step forward protecting our communities now against the threat of wildfire.” 

SB23-166 creates the Wildfire Resiliency Code board made up of 21 voting members and three non-voting members representing local governments, utilities, insurers, and other relevant disciplines such as fire and building professionals that would work to define the WUI and establish minimum standards that better defend those areas from dangerous wildfires.

The bill also requires the Division of Fire Prevention and Control to support local governments in conducting inspections and enforcing their local code if they don’t have rules and regulations in place to enforce their code and request the assistance.

SB23-013, sponsored by Senators Joann Ginal, D-Fort Collins, and Cutter, and Rep. Tammy Story, D-Conifer, creates a fire investigation fund and provides nearly $3 million to help investigate the causes and origins of fires, including wildfires. The new law also requires the Director of the Division of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC) to report on fire investigations to the Wildfire Matters Review Committee.

“Fire season is no longer confined to a few months,” Ginal said. “It’s essential that we act now to prepare for and mitigate future wildfire disasters. By creating a new reporting protocol and a wildfire investigation fund, we are providing local fire departments with the tools they need to better understand the origins of fires, which will better protect our communities and enhance public safety across Colorado.”

“Colorado has a devastating history of wildfires that have wiped out entire neighborhoods,” said Story. “Currently, Colorado’s Division of Fire Prevention and Control only has the resources to staff one full-time fire investigator to dig into the cause and origin of fires across the state, making it difficult to mitigate future wildfires. This law creates a wildfire investigation fund to better understand how fires are started so we can better prevent them and respond to them in the future.”

The Director of DFPC will report annually to the Wildfire Matters Review Committee regarding the current magnitude of the state’s wildfire situation, including the number of wildfire investigations and their statuses, the status of prescribed burns, available resources, and more. Additionally, the fire investigation fund will provide support to local fire departments investigating the cause and origin of fires.

SB23-005, sponsored by Senators Sonya Jaquez Lewis, D-Longmont, and Lisa Cutter, D-Jefferson County, and House Minority Leader Mike Lynch, R-Wellington, and Rep. Marc Snyder, D-Manitou Springs, will improve Colorado’s forestry workforce by directing the Colorado State Forest Service to develop educational materials on career opportunities in the industry and create a workforce development program in the State Forest Service.

“Over the past few years wildfire season has evolved into a year-round threat, but right now we don’t have the workforce needed to keep us safe,” Jaquez Lewis said. “This new law will improve pathways to critical jobs and help Colorado communities stay safe by training more firefighters who will protect our people and our property from increasingly dangerous wildfires.”

“Colorado’s state forest service plays an important role in helping mitigate wildfires by maintaining healthy forests,” said Snyder. “From cutting down dead trees to removing excess brush, the state forest service steps up to provide the year-round mitigation efforts we need to keep our communities safe from wildfires. This law ramps up workforce development and recruitment within the state forest service so we can continue these important wildfire prevention efforts.”

SB23-005 also bolsters the state’s wildfire mitigation capacity development fund and creates and expands forestry programs at state colleges. Finally, the new law will work to increase the number of qualified educators at colleges that deliver a wildfire prevention and mitigation program or course.

SB23-005 and SB23-013 were developed and recommended by the interim Wildfire Matters Review Committee.

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