County upgrades to 2003 International Fire Code standard

Off-grid homes require sprinkler systems

The Crested Butte Fire Protection District (CBFPD) won’t be leaving the fate of homes in outlying areas entirely to the whims of nature or to the judgment of homeowners as it stretches to cover the 250 square miles under its watch.


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After some urging and the recommendation of the Gunnison County Planning Commission, the Board of County Commissioners voted to approve the adoption of the 2003 International Fire Code with two amendments on Tuesday, October 7.
“The Crested Butte Fire Protection District has been working patiently with us for about three years to adopt the International Fire Code for their district and approve amendments to the standards and guidelines,” said county planning director Joanne Williams, adding that the Planning Commission recommended the county approve the adoption in May.
The amended code sets a standard for wildfire mitigation measures in new houses and becomes retroactive when additions are constructed that increase the size of a home by 50 percent or 1,000 square feet.
Part of the building process will now include a review of construction plans by the CBFPD during the permitting process, just as there would be a review and inspection conducted by a building inspector.
“The plan is that the county would send a flag up  [when a permit was pulled] and we would do the reviews and get back with the county to make sure that that stuff is at least designed into the plan,” said Ric Ems, fire chief for the CBFPD.
The code recommends the materials that should be used in every phase of a home’s construction to give it the greatest possible level of fire-resistance, from the roofing materials to the interior finish and furniture upholstery.
Standards developed in the International Fire Code are part of a broader program that has operated under the non-profit International Codes Council (ICC) since 2003.
There is an ICC code for things as varied as the Urban-Wildland Interface Code, Energy Conservation Code and a Property Maintenance Code. There is even a Green Code for constructing buildings in a sustainable way.
The town of Crested Butte currently has the 2003 International Building, Fuel Gas, Mechanical, Plumbing and Residential Codes in place. Gunnison County has adopted the 2003 International Building, Energy Conservation, Fuel Gas, Mechanical and Residential Codes. The codes are updated by the ICC every three years.
Until Tuesday, the city of Gunnison was the only area of the county that had adopted the 2003 IFC. The CBFPD began the process of adopting the same IFC, but by adjusting it to meet the needs of their rural district two amendments were added.
“Basically [one of] the amendments is to allow us to enforce defensible space around homes in conjunction with the recommendations of the Gunnison Basin Wildfire Council and the Colorado State Forest service,” said Ems.
Defensible space is the area between a home and the surrounding wildland, which can be cleared of flammable materials to lessen the chance that a fire could work its way toward a structure. There are private contractors available in the area who specialize in creating defensible space for homeowners.
“After the California wildfires there were a number of articles [published] that said these design concepts do save lives,” said county director of emergency management Scott Morrill, pointing to examples where people were able to take shelter in communities with adequate defensible space and survive the catastrophic wildfires.
A second amendment to the code requires that newly constructed homes, or those that build additions of a certain size, install sprinkler systems if they are not near a fire hydrant.
“The nuts and bolts of the sprinkling ordinance is to sprinkle homes for life safety that are not on the central water supply,” said Ems. “So if you don’t have hydrants at your house, then it would require a sprinkler system.”
On average, sprinkler systems costs between $1.85 and $3 per square foot, he said, with prices increasing for systems being installed in large homes with certain features, like exposed log beams.
Enforcement of the code isn’t limited to homes being built in far-flung places, however. Any new construction in Gunnison County will be held to the same standard if not on a municipal water supply.
In anticipation of homes being built farther from the municipalities, the code includes a requirement that sprinkler systems increase their water storage capacity by 30 gallons for each minute of drive time it takes to reach the station.
“What we’re trying to avoid is fires at the 35-acre residential lots that aren’t in a subdivision and can slip through the loopholes in the permitting process. So that’s what drove [this amendment],” said Ems.

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