DENVER — New data reported by the Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) shows approximately 2.5 million Coloradans live in wildland-urban interface. Of those, over 1 million people reside in areas with moderate to very high risk of wildfire.
The wildland-urban interface is defined as a place where human development is close to parts of the state more susceptible to wildfire- like open space and vegetation. The same study from CSFS found around 4.5 million acres of Colorado are considered to be within the wildland-urban interface, which also accounts for about 1 million buildings.
Joost de Gouw is a professor in the chemistry department at the University of Colorado Boulder who specifically studies air pollution. He was not surprised by the findings from CSFS.
“We have forests in the western part of the state, but we have grasses everywhere. So yes, I would say the whole state needs to pay attention to this issue," de Gouw said.
Recent research from de Gouw has focused on the impact of the Marshall Fire on the indoor air quality of homes that did not burn, but were close to the blaze.
“People were wondering, is it safe to return? When? What am I exposed to? And also, how can I clean up my home?” de Gouw said. “Even scientists didn't think about this issue before the Marshall Fire.”
He said the pollutants appeared to last at higher levels than normal inside the homes for around five to six weeks, which was longer than expected.
“What our research showed is that the air quality effects actually linger after the fire is out," de Gouw said. “Your home sort of acts like a sponge, it soaks up the smoke. And then after the fire is out, it slowly releases that smoke again and it can still expose you to some levels of of smoke compounds.”
The research illuminates another aspect of life with wildfires, spotlighting the lasting effects.
“The concern is that more and more people are moving into forested areas, are moving into the wildland-urban interface," de Gouw said. "Because we're moving more and more people will be at risk for wildfire impacts.”
The Colorado Forest Atlas has interactive tools where Coloradans can identify the wildfire risk of their home and more.
Live Wildfire Ready has information on how to prepare for a wildfire and protecting against it.