County to consider governor’s request for fire ban
Although last week’s rain and snow in the Roaring Fork Valley eased the drought somewhat, state and federal agencies are beginning to gear up for what may be a difficult fire season.
Last week, Gov. Bill Owens sent a letter to county commissioners statewide urging them to declare a fire ban.
Last year the Garfield County commissioners imposed a ban on open fires from June 18 until Aug. 22.
Garfield County emergency management director Guy Meyer would like to see an automatic, summer-long ban imposed from Memorial Day to Labor Day, every year.
“We’ve had a fire ban every year since 1990,” he said.
The commissioners will consider Owens’ request at their Monday, May 6, meeting.
“The rain and snow changed conditions in the last few days, but we’re heading into the critical season,” Meyer said.
“The rain and snow could be short-lived,” said Colorado State Forest Service area forester John Denison of Grand Junction. “If we don’t get the monsoonal air flow, we could be in bad shape.”
In a message to citizens last week Owens said that as of April 19 this year, 283 fires had already consumed 7,600 acres.
In 2000, the worst fire season in the state in 50 years, 54 fires had burned 2,700 acres by the same date.
Last week’s 2,500-acre Snaking wildfire near Bailey forced the evacuation of hundreds of homes. It was declared fully contained Sunday.
Owens released $450,000 in emergency funds to hire firefighters and supply equipment six weeks earlier than usual. He also promised three single-engine tankers that can be sent to any part of the state to drop retardant or water on fires.
“They’ll be stationed wherever the fire danger is highest,” Denison said. “Right now that’s on the Front Range.”
Some money is also available through the National Fire Plan, enacted by Congress to help local firefighters fight wildland fires. That funding comes through a cost-sharing program run by the State Forest Service, Denison said.
Last year the state forest service doled out a total of $150,000 to local fire departments. About $40,000 went to departments in Carbondale, Basalt, New Castle, Aspen and Parachute for equipment and protective clothing, Denison said.
Denison said he expects to support valley fire departments with more equipment again this year.
The state forest service also joins forces with local and federal agencies to help fight wildfires.
The county sheriff is responsible for fighting fires outside city and town limits. The state forest service will step in to fight fires in those areas if requested by the sheriff, Denison said.
Two local federal agencies, the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, combine firefighting forces at the Upper Colorado Interagency Fire Management Center, headquartered at Garfield County Airport near Rifle.
The center covers the White River National Forest, the Grand Mesa and Uncompahgre national forests, and the BLM field office areas in Grand Junction and Glenwood Springs, said Grand Junction Dispatch Center dispatch manager Stephanie Brown.
During the fire season, firefighting crews, including helitack and initial attack crews, are stationed at the Grand Junction Interagency Dispatch Center at Walker Field.
Usually one heavy tanker is stationed at the dispatch center, which this year will be a P2V that can carry 2,450 gallons of fire retardant, Brown said.
A team of eight to 12 smoke jumpers is also headquartered there, as well as a DeHavilland Twin Otter aircraft.
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Since Colorado’s not yet in the clear of the global pandemic, the Garfield School District Re-2 is heading into next year with a relatively frugal budget.