By Shawn Chitnis

BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – Homeowners are encouraging others living in the path of future fires to consider the Wildfire Partners program and mitigate future flames as Monday marks two years since the Cold Springs Fire.

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(credit: Nichol Lamprecht)

“Prior to the fire, we had cut down, probably pretty close to a thousand trees over the course of a couple years,” said Lester Karplus. “The fire came over that hill, basically burned everything in its path, and took the forest all the way around us.”

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The flames were intense and reached a couple hundred feet, Karplus remembered. The fire on July 9, 2016 did not spare those close to his house. As a certified member of Wildfire Partners, he wants others to learn from his experience and understand how the proper preparation can protect a home.

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“While the houses, unfortunately, to the south and west of us, both were gone in a matter of minutes, we survived,” he said. “If you can keep reducing the fuel, down the closer you get to the house, the less fuel there is, the higher the probably you’re going to survive a fire.”

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John and Annie Bonvoulior’s home in the foreground of the Cold Springs Fire (credit: Joe McManus)

Karplus and his wife were already working to mitigate their home before they enrolled in the program. But they learned about additional features they could add to their property to keep it safe.

Aluminum barriers on wood joints to keep embers igniting the side of their house was just one important change they made because of Wildfire Partners. Limbing up the trees from the ground and keeping the crowns 30 feet apart were other steps they took to become certified.

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“Up here there are a lot of junipers, they’re kind of like pouring gas on a fire,” he added. “Just reducing that fuel all around is the name of the game.”

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Wildfire Partners launched five years ago by Boulder County. Staff want to enroll all homeowners in the unincorporated part of the county and surrounding mountain towns. One of the first steps is getting an assessment of your property, which can last two to four hours. They are providing this service free for the rest of July. They also can provide financial assistance to families that qualify.

There is a hesitation among homeowners to properly mitigate their property because they are concerned about losing all the trees around them or the cost to upgrade their house. But the Karplus family says to live in this setting is to accept the inevitable from Mother Nature.

“Fire is a matter of when, not if,” he said.  “We really realized right away, we had to live with the possibility of fire.”

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In the past five years, the have lived through four fires and three evacuations. But they never feared they would lose the house. Smoke damage and destroyed fences are relatively small losses, the couple said.

The 30 acres of woods that made them choose their home’s location are now gone. They have cut down the burnt trees and started pastureland. It has created a new buffer for the valley around their house.

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“Just absolutely love it, this year the wildflowers were unbelievable,” said Karplus. “We’ve seen wildflowers here this year that we’ve never seen in 10 years.”

Staff with Boulder County say it is important that homeowners understand this is not a guarantee a home will survive a fire. But certification from the program is enough to help with the cost of home insurance because companies have noticed the difference it makes during fire season.

“It’s different, it’s a new beauty, and we love it,” Karplus said. “Nature will do its thing, you’ll have a new beautiful place to be.”

LINK: Wildfire Partners

Wildfire Resources

– Visit CBSDenver.com’s Colorado Wildfire section.

Wildfire Photo Galleries

– See images from the most destructive wildfires (Black Forest, Waldo Canyon, High Park and Fourmile), the deadliest (Storm King) and largest wildfire (Hayman) in Colorado history.

Shawn Chitnis reports weeknights for CBS4 News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Email him story ideas at smchitnis@cbs.com and connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.

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