Sustainability, Energy and Environment Community

University of Colorado Boulder


understand risks, prepare for change

Cope with ongoing climate change and bounce back from a climate disaster like a flood, wildfire, or heatwave. Understand the increased risks in your area and prepare for them.


A little too close to home...

Portrait of Lydia Lawhon

Lydia Lawhon


On Saturday, July 9, 2016, I was sitting in the kitchen shelling fava beans when my husband pulled into the driveway and ran into the house. “There’s a smoke, and it’s in a bad place,” he said.

When we moved to the small town of Nederland, CO, in the mountains west of Boulder, we recognized that wildfire would be a constant worry. Fortunately, my husband had been a wildland firefighter for over a decade and was familiar with fire behavior and risk. We immediately set to reducing fuels on our ¾ acre property – raking thick layers of pine needles from under our decks, removing trees within a set perimeter of the house, and sawing limbs so that there would not be any ladder fuels for a ground fire to climb into the canopy.

We also worked with Wildfire Partners, a Boulder County initiative that provides expertise and funding to help support wildfire mitigation efforts on residential properties. They performed an audit of our home and gave us recommendations to further reduce the risk of losing it in a wildfire. We caulked gaps in the siding, installed wire mesh over vent openings, and eventually replaced a wood deck with fire-resistant materials. We also prepared for the worst, keeping important files in marked boxes to take with us in the event of an evacuation and establishing a family evacuation plan.

On that Saturday afternoon, the fire we had been preparing for arrived. Within 15 minutes, ash was raining on our heads as we loaded up our three dogs, my hard drive with my then-in-progress PhD dissertation, and our previously packed boxes. As we drove down our evacuation route and waited out the next few days, we did feel confident that we did what we could to protect our property and hoped the firefighters would stay safe as they worked to contain the fire. Through a combination of fuels mitigation treatments on surrounding US Forest Service land, neighborhood efforts, and individual homeowner actions, we were able to return home a week later.

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