Better Planning to Reduce Wildfire Risk: A Summit County Case Study and Lessons for Other Communities

Wildfires pose a growing threat to many communities. As more development occurs near wildfire-prone lands, there is a growing need to reduce risk through improved land use policies and tools.

  • The majority of risks and costs from wildfires come from protecting homes, but there has been insufficient effort to date to modify development near wildfire-prone areas.
  • A new report, using Summit County, CO, provides recommendations for how that community can improve and strengthen its approach to addressing wildfire risks.
  • The lessons from this case study can help other local governments and federal policy makersdevelop best practices, lessons, and tools to reduce future wildfire risk.

summit county colorado scenic vista

Background and Goals

Wildfires pose a growing risk to many communities for several reasons: more development is occurring in wildfire-prone areas, forest management and wildfire suppression practices have produced an abundance of hazardous fuels, and a changing climate is exacerbating drought conditions and increasing the average length of the wildfire “season.”

Today, more than 72,000 communities across the U.S. are considered “communities at risk” to wildfire. Since 1990, firefighter fatalities have continued to rise, and the average number of structures burned from a wildfire has more than tripled with as many as 5,000 structures burned in recent years.