Drought - Fire - Flood Email Forum

RE: Fire (and floods)

Len Wright (
Thu, 26 Oct 2000 10:52:52 -0600

Perhaps one of the differences between fire and flood is that flood risk is
more spatially defined than floods. All of us are in some risk of wildfire
in the front range, but one difference is the level of protection we have
(or think we have) from our water supply and fire departments.

Floods on the other hand, are different. Flood risk varies widely with
location, elevation etc. When development occurs in the floodplain, the
risk is far better defined from a statistical standpoint. Though estimates
of what a 100-year flood is may change (The 100 year flow has been changed
and updated significantly in the past for Boulder Cr.), plus watershed
conditions may change due to land use practices (statistical hydrologist
call this "nonstationarity" - basically the watershed reacts differently
over time due to forest practices, urbanization, climate change, etc), we
still have a decent estimate of where damage will occur.

We attempt to send risk signals via flood insurance and public education.
Warning systems (such as Boulder's) should save lives but do very little for
economic damages. Boulder's high risk zones based on simulated flow
velocities (that's a whole discussion in itself) are also designed to save
lives not property for the most part. Should the public's responsibility
for flood economic losses be different for floods than for fires due to a
better defined risk zone (i.e. better knowledge for the individual risk

A tough question is also raised by risk equity. The economic value of
floodplain land can vary from desirable "waterfront property" in areas where
flooding is rare to reduced value "bargain land" due to more common periodic
flooding. I am reminded of the movie "Angela's Ashes" where the poorest
house on the block is the most downstream house on the street that floods
every spring due to poor sewage and drainage. Insurance is one way to
distribute risk, but where it has been subsidized (not actuarially sound),
it could be argued that it has promoted risky behavior (e.g. made a risk
cheaper and more desirable).

Great discussions so far, keeping me from my work.

- Len Wright

-----Original Message-----
[]On Behalf Of Connie Woodhouse
Sent: Thursday, October 26, 2000 9:38 AM
Subject: Re: Fire

> My experience on the Sugar Loaf fire deparment is that new
> residents in the mountains fall into two groups: those that are
> totally clueless about the risks of mountain living, haven't given fire
> protection (or any emergency response) a single thought, and are
> surprised when they find out the fire department can't control every
> situation, and those that came from rural areas and assume the
> local fire dept can do nothing. I've heard lots of comments from the
> second group about how you if live in the mountains, you get good
> insurance and take your chances.

This sounds about right. I live on Sugar Loaf Rd., are we are just
within the fire district, but I don't expect that the fire department
will save our house in a forest fire. This spring, we checked to make
sure the insurance was up-to-date, targeted trees near the house that
would get cut down, and what would go in the metal garage if there was a


Connie Woodhouse
NOAA Paleoclimatology Program
National Geophysical Data Center
325 Broadway  E/GC
Boulder, CO  80303
ph: (303)497-6297
fax: (303)497-6513
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