Summit County is located in central Colorado 70 miles west of Denver. It is facing many issues that make wildfire protection planning difficult; a growing population, development in the wildland-urban interface, mountain pine beetle infestation, and forests that are adapting to intense, stand-replacing wildfires. The county consists predominantly of public land; 80 percent is federally owned, mostly controlled by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.

In 2005, Summit County was one of the first counties in Colorado to develop a Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP), which are now required statewide. A grassroots taskforce, including realtors, developers, contractors, and planners, helped to garner support for the plan. Key provisions of the CWPP included fire-wise building, GIS mapping of fire risks, and a strategy to regularly update and revise the plan.

Summit County’s CWPP recommends that all structures comply with chapter 44 of the International Code of Residential Construction with regard to building materials. In fact, Summit County was an early adopter of the 1992 uniform building code that contains specific criteria on defensible space, non-combustible roofing materials, and other provisions reducing structural ignitability. The county has had a full-time staff member in charge of enforcing these codes and educating the public about fire-wise building since 2001.

June 28, 2012. The Waldo Canyon fire has claimed 18,500 acres and burned more than 300 homes. Photo by US Department of Defense

The CWPP uses GIS modeling to map areas of concern in five categories:  fuel hazards, the risk of wildfire occurrence, essential infrastructure at risk, community values at risk, and local preparedness and firefighting capacity.  Areas with the highest combined risk ratings in all categories are identified as “focus areas,” where the community concentrates its efforts for fuels reduction, community protection, and fire preparedness.

Every year, the Summit County Wildfire Council revisits the CWPP to determine if the maps need to be updated. The council also evaluates the previous year’s efforts to reduce fire risk and creates a strategy for the next year.

In 2010, the Community Wildfire Protection Plan was revised. Refinements to the 2010 plan include:

  • Funding – the 2010 plan established an annual grant to help private landowners cover the costs of fuels reduction and defensible space on their property. Also, the county commissioners have resolved to devote up to $500,000 annually for 12 years toward wildfire mitigation, and to build a cash reserve to fund fire suppression.
  • Maps – the 2010 plan updated the risk hazard modeling and mapping, refining the borders of the focus areas for management activities.
  • Management recommendations for reducing fire hazards in each of the focus areas – the plan identifies specific areas that need fuel breaks, road improvements, water development for firefighting, defensible space around homes, or other improvements.
  • Coordination between agencies – a key provision in the 2010 plan is close collaboration between the county, the fire protection districts, the Colorado State Forest, the Forest Service, and the towns. For example, county firefighters are trained to fight fire on both private and federal land. 
  • Community preparedness and evacuation planning – the plan outlines methods for notifying citizens about wildfire conditions and evacuations and assigns responsibilities to fire or law enforcement officials for specific evacuation-related tasks.
  • Minimizing noxious weeds – an objective of the 2010 plan is to ensure that noxious weeds do not proliferate following fuels reduction treatments. This will entail coordination with the county wee department, educating landowners and forestry workers, and collaboration with state and federal agencies for weed management on their properties.


Case Study Resources

Summit County Wildfire Mitigation Department – website

Summit County Community Wildfire Protection Plan, Revised 2010 – PDF



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Resilient Communities and Watersheds


  • Challenges:
  • wildfire
  • watersupply
  • waterquality
  • State:
  • colorado
  • Scale:
  • regional
  • Type:
  • amenity, rural, suburban