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Growing Number of Communities Pose Fire Hazard

Growing Number of Communities Pose Fire Hazard

Posted - Jul. 22, 2004 at 10:11 p.m.



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Nadine Wimmer reporting A growing number of Utahns live in communities that pose a fire hazard. Not only from what's around them, but from what's missing.

And, they may not even know it.

In your workplace, your home, there are at least a couple ways to exit in an emergency. But a Utah researcher found a growing number of communities here, lack enough roads to get people out in a fire.

Tom Kendrick, Homeowner: “I like sitting on my deck, having breakfast, which I did this morning, looking out over this view right here."

To this homeowner, the view of Summit Park is breathtaking.

To this University of Utah Geographer, the sight is breathtaking all right, in a bad way.

Tom Cova/U Of U Geographer: “Nobody knows what it will look like in many cases when everybody tries to leave."

Chopper Five shows why he's concerned. Some 450 homes spread along heavily forested mountains, and just two roads, leading in or out.

Tom Cova/U Of U Geographer: ” It's easy to see it in hindsight, but nobody looks at it much in the foresight."

He lived through the consequences, the 1991 fatal fires in Oakland, California. Now he hopes his research can save Utah families similar heartache.

A map highlights in red, places that could be at-risk. Cova used satellite photos to chart new growth, and laid them over fire maps. The red is dense along the Wasatch back, like Heber, Provo Canyon, Utah County, even canyons outside of St. George.

Tom Cova, Univ. of Utah Researcher: “Some of these communities can go from 10 to 20 homes to hundreds to over a thousand without the roads changing at all."

Tom Cova, Univ. of Utah Researcher:: “I think we need to start talking about how many is too many."

Battalion Chief Mark Billmire, Summit County Fire Dept.: “Developers, if the land's there, they're going to develop it, and their main concern isn't for the homeowner."

As more people head for the hills, fire response times grow. Some homes in Summit County are 20 minutes from the nearest fire station.

So personal protection becomes all the more important.

  1. Maintain a 30 foot vegetation clearing around your home.
  2. Avoid wood shingles
  3. Many homes now have their own sprinkling systems. Another similar community is the Colony in Summit County. Eventually, there will be 200 homes in those mountains. And again, one road in, one road out. Yet fire planners say they see safety measures here they wish existed in every mountain community. For example, signs leading people to safe zones, large areas cleared of vegetation, where people could escape fire if they can't get out on the road. Battalion Chief Mark Billmire, Summit County Fire Dept.: “Those are the things, as the developer goes in, that they need to check on. Don't just throw up a home that's going to be a tinderbox. " While those precautions will help, Cova believes they only do so much. He argues, it's time for community exit codes. Tom Cova, Univ. of Utah Researcher::: Just as we're requiring them for buildings, we're requiring them for stadiums, we should require them for communities. We're going to have to." Because the very conditions that make these neighborhoods dangerous, also make them so appealing.

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