Coloradans are justifiably proud of the natural beauty of their state. Indeed, the “purple mountain majesty,” which was immortalized in the song “America the Beautiful,” first came to the song’s lyricist, Katharine Lee Bates, as she witnessed this breathtaking beauty from Pikes Peak, located near Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Unfortunately, with this pristine natural beauty of Denver and the surrounding communities come dangerous natural forces: wildfires and high winds. The most famous fire in the history of the area was The Great Denver Fire of 1863. As documents found in the “Denver Fire Fighter Museum” note:
“The fire of 1863 started in the early morning of April 19, sometime between 2 and 3 a.m. Environmental conditions were primed for a dangerous fire. The preceding weeks had been especially dry. A steady breeze blew throughout the night, constantly shifting direction and spreading the fire throughout the city. Moreover, there were few fire regulations, and citizens were often criticized for their lax attitude towards fire safety.
“All told, the fire destroyed over 70 buildings and 115 businesses. There was an estimated $200,000 to $350,000 in lost property. While building values were minimal, the loss of inventory was devastating to business owners. Nearly half the goods in the city had been in the burned district. Fortunately, no lost lives were reported as a result of the fire.”
As a result of this fire, the city council passed new laws to prohibit the use of flammable building materials in the downtown area. It also passed the “Brick Ordinance” that mandated all new construction in the young city be completed with either brick or stone. Previously, most of the buildings were shabbily constructed of wood and when these were removed and the rebuilt buildings made of brick, the city began to take on a more permanent appearance and has continued to flourish.
Mitigating the Danger of Fire and Wind in Modern Day Denver
Today, there is no “Brick Ordinance” requiring homebuilders to use brick and stone materials. However, many custom home builders are cognizant of the potential damage that can result from wildfires and strong winds and they have incorporated preventative building materials and techniques in their homes to help mitigate these destructive forces.
One custom home builder that understands the value of incorporating safety features in construction is Schroetlin Custom Homes. The company has been building custom homes in Northern Colorado for 45 years and is led by Mike Schroetlin. He understands the potential for danger from the forces. He offered five ways a luxury home can be made safe from fire and winds.
“Certain foothill and mountain areas of Colorado are susceptible to wildfire danger,” Mike said. “Most ‘Front Range’ (Denver and the surrounding areas) don’t have the wildfire danger as they are not near mountain or highly treed areas. However, even in the city of Denver, fire prevention is always a concern. Brick and stone can be very crucial in fire prevention, and it is one of the first things we discuss with clients, especially in locations where fire is a concern.
“As for damage from winds, high windows are very common in many parts of Colorado. In a high wind area, there is no better feeling than being inside of a brick home.”
Jay Cox of Acme Brick agreed. “Because brick and stone are not combustible, it is very difficult for an exterior fire to ignite a home constructed of these materials. Or course, there is always a chance that an interior fire can occur, but the random wildfire, which might engulf a wooden or synthetic structure, is less likely to affect a home constructed of brick or stone. As for wind damage, brick construction can easily withstand the Colorado velocities.”
More Ways to Keep a Custom Home Safe
Schroetlin Custom Homes takes safety very seriously, and, because of this, the company has developed other methods for keeping their homes safe from fire and wind.
“Roofing materials, which include metal and concrete tile, help to prevent damage from fire and wind,” Mike said. “We have also had clients request fiber cement soffit, fascia and siding, as an accent on a brick or stone home.
“Interior fire sprinklers are also becoming more common and are starting to be required by more jurisdictions. These are very good safety investments. We also think about fire safety in the outside rooms. Composite decking is what we generally use for deck surfaces. It isn’t fire resistant, but it burns less quickly than wooden decking.
“In areas that are prone for wildfires, there are fire mitigation techniques for the land around the home. This includes the thinning out or removing trees and ground vegetation near any structure.”
On Average: 3,000 Wildfires a Year in Colorado
Colorado Governor, John Hickenlooper, and the Division of Fire Prevention and Control have noted that an average year for wildfires can amount to more than 3,000 fires.
The governor’s office noted that with the “larger number of wildfires in the past few years in Colorado, insurance companies will often require homeowners who live in wildfire areas to mitigate fire hazards on their property.” His office offered these tips and resources for this mitigation plan.
- Use fire-resistant materials in the structure of your home, especially the roof, which is most vulnerable.
- Clear a safety zone around your home of at least 100-500 feet, and remove trees, leaves, brush and pine needles.
- Be sure propane or fuel tanks are at least 30 feet away from all structures.
- Acquire a water storage tank if you do not have access to a community water system or water hydrant.
- Be sure your entrance to the road is accessible. Inaccessible roads can prevent fire-fighting equipment from reaching the home quickly.
- Ensure that the street address is easily visible from the entrance of the property.
Incorporating construction materials and building techniques that reduce the likelihood of fire and wind damage can help keep a family safe but it can also save them money on home insurance.
Mike explained, “Most insurance provide discounts for fire prevention materials. Depending on the materials used and the insurance company, savings can vary from 5-15 percent.”
If safety from fire and wind damage in your custom home is important to you, contact Mike at Schroetlin Custom Home for more ways to reduce the risk. For more information on using brick in your new home, contact Jay Cox at Acme Brick.