New regulations require contractors to thin brush in Western states

City and state officials across the West are taking action to make sure next year’s forest fires won’t be as rampant by passing mandates that require homeowners, landowners and contractors to thin trees and brush near buildings or construction sites.

The most recent wildfire in California killed 22 people, destroyed 3,500 homes and burnt 740,000 acres. The past four fire seasons have been unusually fierce.

According to tough regulations in towns such as Ruidoso, N.M., new construction must use fire-resistant building materials, fire trucks must be able to access the site and water must be made available for firefighting. In new home construction, a “defensible space” is required, and includes firebreaks with very few trees or plants to help stop flames from reaching homes. Any renovation done on older buildings also are required to meet the latest regulations by using fire-safe materials.

In the case of Ruidoso, which was ranked in 2001 as the second-most vulnerable community to wildfires in the nation, officials are trying to make the process easy for home and landowners. Officials visit the sites to determine what needs to be cut, and then the city provides grapple trucks to haul away the debris. Through a cost-sharing program funded by the federal National Fire Plan, landowners can remove trees and brush from their land at about 1/3 of the cost.

While many of the citizens of Ruidoso have no problem complying if it will protect their home or land, pressure from insurance companies is likely to convince the majority of the population to thin brush and trees on their land. Some insurance companies such as MetLife have threatened to cancel coverage if customers don’t comply with their area’s fire safety mandates.