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Devastating fires show growing need for fire-resistant homes

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Posted at 3:34 PM, Jan 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-13 17:34:50-05

BOULDER, Colo. — 2021 was another year filled with massive fires. Records were set in both California and Colorado – with fires igniting all over the western U.S.

Nearly a thousand homes burned to the ground when the Marshall Fire ripped through Northern Colorado. One hundred mile-per-hour winds turned a grass fire into miles of an inferno.

“A fire started in the field across from us," 9-year-old Lyric Stelling said. "I started getting really scared, and I started panicking, and the firemen told us we had to evacuate. So I helped my dad grab the cats, and he got them into the car, and we drove off seeing trees and bridges just burning on our way out.”

Lyric and her mother, Annabel, say they were shocked to learn the next day that their house was the only one still standing on their block.

“Hearing that our house was OK was the most relief I've probably ever felt since you were born,” Annabel said as she looked at her daughter.

Surrounding bushes, trees, and even their trampoline burned, but the house was spared.

“When I came up on Friday morning with the fireman, he said ‘it's because of the stucco that your house was saved,’” Annabel said.

Stucco – which is a cement-based mixture – is fire resistant.

Annabel says they wanted to build a stronger house after some hail damage years ago. The person they reached out to was Jeff Hindman, the president of Cottonwood Custom Builders.

“We really focus on protecting the environment and building sustainable homes,” Hindman said.

According to Hindman, the best materials for building a fire-resistant home include stucco, stone, brick, and metal.

“Asphalt shingles are surprisingly fire resistant, and metal roofs are very fire resistant,” Hindman said.

Hindman says the houses that burned down likely had wood or particle-board siding.

With a growing number of destructive fires across the U.S., Hindman says he believes fire-resistant housing is becoming more necessary. Fortunately, he says it’s not much more expensive.

“So stucco or cement siding are probably $10 a square foot, whereas an inexpensive particle board siding, you know, might be seven,” Hindman said.

Hindman also suggests building with tempered glass since it has a higher heat resistance and creates a defensible space around your house.

“The gravel perimeter around the house is incredibly important,” Hindman said.

With the threat of climate change, Hindman says we are at a point when catastrophic fires can happen anywhere.

“The concern was always in the foothills," Hindman said. "I don't think until this fire anyone ever thought that this would be possible for entire subdivisions to burn, you know, on the plains. This is not a forest fire, and to have a thousand homes burn in eight hours, just incomprehensible.”

“My husband, we say all the time, ‘we're so lucky we're in, you know, a really open area, it's not very densely populated. You know, there's floods with people that are on the streams. There are fires for people up in the mountains, and we're in a pretty good situation'. Never did we think that we would be talking about our homes being burned down,” Stelling said.

Stelling says they are beyond grateful for their stucco house. And Hindman’s clients are all ready to make the switch to fire-resistant housing.

"All of our current projects, every single one of them is talking about changing to fire resistant materials," Hindman said.