Colorado Springs city officials on Tuesday introduced a plan to make current wildfire evacuation planning measures local law, a move residents say doesn’t address the core of their concerns about the ability to exit their homes safely in the event of a major fire.
Councilman Bill Murray was among those at back-to-back meetings of the Colorado Springs City Council raising concerns that passage of the evacuation planning process law would not guide residents. development decisions. Some residents worry that building more homes west of Interstate 25 will make it harder for people to escape before a fire.
“What are the metrics we’re supposed to use to be able to process and form choices and not leave it up to the developer or the whims?” he said.
Long wildfire evacuation delays for parts of Colorado Springs shown in models
Mayor John Suthers, who was not present, assessed residents’ request for an ordinance that would have made the time it takes to evacuate a factor in determining whether new development can be allowed, the official said. chief of staff Jeff Greene.
City Attorney Ben Bolinger said his office advised the mayor against the residents’ measure. The residents’ proposal that would govern the development could create ad hoc moratoriums on construction on certain plots, he said.
Instead, Suthers asked staff to develop a different solution that would translate the city’s existing evacuation planning process into law. The new rules would require city officials to annually review the city’s community wildfire protection plan and all-hazards evacuation plan. Exams are already taking place regularly, city officials said Tuesday. It would also require the city to have evacuation zones that will be informed by topography, existing neighborhoods and major roads, among other steps.
Developing rules that ignore evacuation times circumvents an overall strategy, said Bill Wysong, with Westside Watch, an advocacy group that works on wildfire safety issues. Fast Local Emergency Evacuation Times is federally funded software that can be used to determine these times.
“They left out the most important element,” Wysong said in an interview.
City engineer Todd Frisbie said he tested the software to see how more residents change the time it takes for residents to leave.
“Population doesn’t seem to have a giant or significant impact on evacuation times,” he said.
However, expert analysis using fast local emergency evacuation times found wildfire evacuation times are already long on the West Side.
Mike Robinson, a professor at Old Dominion University and an expert in evacuation modeling, found that all residents could take 3 hours and 50 minutes to leave the Broadmoor area, excluding tourist traffic.
Colorado Springs fire officials also told the city council on Tuesday that the city is purchasing Zone Haven, a software system that can be used to guide decisions during a wildfire. For example, firefighters can use the tool to select the most important areas that need to be evacuated first during a fire and notify residents who live in those areas within minutes, said Fire Marshal Brett Lacey.
Colorado Springs wildfire evacuation patterns are divisive; presentations today
The city plans to sign a contract to use Zone Haven in the coming weeks, Police Chief Vince Niski said. The new software will cost $74,000 in the first year and $36,000 a year in subsequent years, Fire Chief Randy Royal said.
Colorado Springs would be the first in the state to use Zone Haven, a tool that has been used in California and other communities.
“That’s what we need to get the job done,” Lacey said.
Colorado Springs has approximately 88,000 residents living in the Wildland Urban Interface and the new tool will divide the community into smaller evacuation zones than before. Smaller areas could allow residents to leave more efficiently. However, if a large fire — like Marshall, which recently destroyed more than 1,000 homes in Boulder County — swept through the city, firefighters would still need to call a large evacuation that could cause a slow evacuation, Lacey said.
Wildfire advocates pointed out that Zone Haven and Fast Local Emergency Evacuation Times serve different purposes, and the city could pursue both options.
In the wake of the Marshall Fire, the Tri-Lakes Monument Fire Protection District is considering strategies to fight the devastating wildfires
Zone Haven is a real-time data system that requires communication lines to operate, said Dana Duggan, an attorney at Westside Watch. Fast local emergency evacuation times could help the city develop evacuation maps that residents can access before a fire.
The residents’ proposal to have an evacuation times development guide is a “cutting edge” idea that has impressed Dan Dallas, an expert who handles some of the biggest fires in recent years, she said.
Duggan quoted Dallas in his comments, saying, “People should know how to get out and how long it takes.”