Half of Coloradans now live in area at risk of wildfires: How to check your neighborhood

The Waldo Canyon Fire reaches homes in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood on June 26, 2012. (Photo: Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (KKTV) - Click here to view the Colorado Wildfire Risk Assessment Portal. You may need to update your Adobe Flash Player.

In recent years, Colorado has seen some of its most destructive wildfires in state history.

In 2012, the High Park Fire became the most destructive ever in Colorado -- until the Waldo Canyon Fire began days later.

Waldo Canyon Fire held the "most destructive" title for about 352 days until the Black Forest Fire ignited on June 11, 2013.

Five of the largest wildfires in state history happened in 2018.

But despite these numbers, Coloradans continue to move into high-risk areas, according to new data released by the Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) Monday.

From 2012-2017, the number of people living in Colorado's wildland urban interface (WUI) jumped from 2 million to 2.9 million -- nearly half of the state's population.

The increase can be credited to multiple factors, the state forest service said. It's not just people moving into mountains -- the biggest population shift has come from Coloradans moving into agricultural lands converted into subdivisions.

"Although these areas are considered in a low-risk category by the assessment, they are still at a higher risk for wildfire than more urban areas," CSFS said in a statement.

A new interactive map released by CSFS Monday shows this reality. Using Colorado Springs as an example: while the western fringes are predictably coated in red, showing the highest risk, the eastern, northern and southern borders of the city reveal a higher risk than central Springs locations.

Firefighters say the most important thing you can do if living within the WUI is mitigate your home and have an evacuation plan in place.

"We had firemen come out and tell us how to do mitigation and trim our trees and trim our bushes and how far away things need to be and clean out the leaves and clean out the dead things and all of those things," said Rita Gunzelman, who lives in the Springs' southwest side.

For more details on wildfire mitigation, click here.

The interactive risk assessment map released by CSFS Monday is the first major update to the map since 2013. It shows the risk level for wildfires for every neighborhood in the state. One of the new features is a statewide "burn probability" layer, which the forest service says uses an advanced GIS tool for modeling wildfire behavior and spread, based on millions of wildfire simulations.

"The revised web portal focuses not only on the probability and potential intensity of wildfire, but also the values at risk from the negative effects of wildfire – such as homes, drinking water supplies and forest assets," CSFS said.

Click here to view the Colorado Wildfire Risk Assessment Portal. You may need to update your Adobe Flash Player.