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Thousands of Mountain West homes have wooden roofs vulnerable to wildfire

A close-up of a wooden roof that is charred and has two small flames burning near the bottom of the image.
Flames burn the wooden roof of a home in the western U.S.

A new study shows that many Americans living in wildfire-prone areas have homes that are not built with wildfire in mind.

According to Headwaters Economics, a nonprofit research group based in Montana, nearly one million homes in counties with high wildfire risks have roofs made of wood – the most vulnerable to fire.

In the Mountain West, the area with the most is Lyon County, Nev., near Reno. The county, which has a wildfire risk higher than 92% of the country, has nearly 18,000 homes with wooden roofs.

Teton County in northwest Wyoming, meanwhile, has 4,300 homes with wooden roofs. Rio Blanco County, Colo., has nearly 1,300 such homes. Both areas have wildfire-risk levels greater than 87% of the U.S.

Kimiko Barrett, a wildfire researcher and policy analyst at Headwaters Economics, says the federal government hasn’t provided grants to help homeowners address the risks.

“And that is a missed opportunity and oversight, and does not provide the homeowners the incentive nor the financial means to be able to replace their roof,” said Barrett, who President Joe Biden recently appointed to the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission established by last year’s infrastructure law.

Barrett says retrofitting the nearly one million homes in high wildfire risk areas would cost at least $6 billion.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Kaleb is an award-winning journalist and KUNR’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter. His reporting covers issues related to the environment, wildlife and water in Nevada and the region.
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