Keystone’s Decatur homeowners association bans electric vehicles in garage

HOA cites fire department’s concern, but Summit Fire says that’s not the case

The Decatur condominium building is pictured in Keystone on Monday, Dec. 6. Homeowners in the condo building are now prohibited from parking electric vehicles in the garage underneath the building due to the homeowners association citing increased fire risk.
Lindsey Toomer/Summit Daily News

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to remove a sentence that said Keystone Resort Property Management did not return calls seeking comment. Vail Resorts acts as Keystone Resort Property Management and therefore did provide a comment.

Homeowners at the Decatur property in Keystone’s Lakeside Village were alerted last week that electric vehicles are now prohibited from parking or charging in the garage due to an increased “risk of fire.”

The email that went out to homeowners on Nov. 30 said Decatur’s design “creates increased fire risks if an (electric vehicle) fire happens in our garage.”

“Several factors significantly increase time to extinguish an (electric vehicle) fire at Decatur,” the email reads. “First, water will not extinguish a battery fire in an (electric vehicle), making a sprinkler system useless. Second, the enclosed design of our garage makes it problematic for firefighters to access the fire with the required amount of retardant.”

While the email states that the fire marshal did a risk assessment and concluded there is increased risk, a spokesperson for Summit Fire & EMS said that’s not the case.

Summit Fire spokesperson Steve Lipsher said the organization received an inquiry from the homeowners association asking whether Summit Fire advised against parking electric vehicles in the underground garage, which it did not. He said basic fire codes do not take into account electric vehicles or differentiate between them and gasoline vehicles.

“We told them if they were going to install a charging station that it should be done in consultation with the fire marshal to ensure that, like any electrical power system, it meets fire code,” Lipsher wrote in an email. “But there is no guidance nor authority otherwise that we have about charging stations, nor about the use or parking of electric vehicles.”

Lipsher reiterated that this decision was made entirely by the homeowners association and that Summit Fire was involved “only on the periphery” based on a brief conversation. He said to his knowledge, there have been no electric vehicle fires in Summit Fire’s jurisdiction, but there have been “numerous fires involving conventional vehicles over the years.”

The email sent to homeowners said the decision was made by Decatur’s board of managers. The decision came as the board had been monitoring news about fire hazards when charging or parking electric vehicles in enclosed garages with attached dwellings.

Marissa Dailey is a homeowner in Decatur who is also an electric vehicle owner, and she hasn’t been able to get in touch with anyone with the homeowners association to express her concerns about how the ban will impact her.

While there are a few other parking spots to choose from outside the garage at Decatur, Dailey said it can be difficult to snag these spots during peak season. She said because of the new ban, she will be less likely to drive her electric vehicle when her family comes to visit their condo, opting to drive their gas-operated SUV instead.

Dailey said she would have “no qualms if there was a legitimate risk assessment done” that showed safety issues, as she wouldn’t want to lose her own car or condo to a fire, but this doesn’t appear to be the case. She said it’s unethical that the board would make a decision like this based on a brief conversation with the fire district, which appeared to be misconstrued.

“I’m really disappointed in Vail for not stepping up to this,” Dailey said. “We’re not the only (electric vehicle) owners at this condo. … Nobody’s happy about this precedent.”

Jess Hoover, climate action director at High Country Conservation Center, said it’s fair to be concerned about electric vehicle fires just as much as gasoline-powered vehicle fires. She said electric vehicles are “very safe” and that “fire concerns shouldn’t prevent the still very inevitable (electric vehicle) revolution.”

“Sometimes, when events are vivid and leave a lasting impression, we might make decisions based upon that impression rather than the data itself,” Hoover said. “When we hear about (electric vehicle) fires, we might fear that they’re more common than they actually are. Battery fires are certainly different than regular car fires, and fire department staff should be trained how to properly manage and put them out.”

While Vail Resorts manages the homeowners association, spokesperson Loryn Roberson said, “all HOA decisions and communications come from the board” and that this was not a Vail Resorts policy or decision.

No one on the homeowners association board of managers could be reached for comment.

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