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Climate experts warn last week’s wildfires in Colorado, which torched more than 500 homes and forced tens of thousands of residents to evacuate their homes, could be just a preview. Sam Brasch for Colorado Public Radio says instead of burning through national forests or mountain towns, the grass fires near Boulder County engulfed suburbs, including a Target shopping center and a hotel.

But while many residents may have expected safety in urban areas, fire experts have warned wildfire risk isn't limited to mountain areas. In 2017, state foresters estimated nearly 3 million Coloradans lived in fire-prone areas, which scientists refer to as the wildland-urban interface, known as the WUI. That’s about half the state’s population.

The estimate comes from the Colorado State Forest Service. The agency maintains the Colorado Wildfire Risk Assessment Portal, or CO-WRAP, to help firefighters and local leaders plan for wildfires. Anyone can use the portal to learn more about the fire risk near their home or any other community.

Amanda Fordham, who oversees data and science for the state forest service, said it’s important to remember fire risks are not the same. The data tool shows grassland fires threaten many subdivisions. While those fires can burn quickly and threaten homes, firefighters are also usually on hand to help.

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