John Twitchell: Cooperation key in fighting wildland fires

John Twitchell: Cooperation key in fighting wildland fires

20 October 2010

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USA —  Colorado recently has experienced a series of significant late-season fires. These include the Four Mile Canyon Fire, the Reservoir Road Fire and most recently, the Church Park fire.

We thought residents of Routt County might be interested to know how the Colorado State Forest Service works with local Routt County fire agencies and other partners in responding to the threat of wildland fire.

Wildland fires are fires that burn in the forest, or in shrubs and grass, as opposed to structure fires that burn houses or other structures.

The vast majority of wildland fires are put out quickly, in part because of the cooperation of local and federal firefighters.

An important role of CSFS is its function as a liaison between local and federal fire agencies, while serving as an advocate for the citizens of Colorado.

CSFS also provides support for fire training at the local, state and national level, and we are the conduit for grants that assist in mitigating the dangers of wildland fires before they occur.

No single fire agency has enough resources to provide a timely response to contain and control all fires in its jurisdiction.

Resources in the fire world might be people, fire engines, aircraft and other fire fighting tools and equipment. Sharing resources and cooperating allows agencies to not have to staff and equip for the worst-case situation.

In order for interagency cooperation to function, there must be formal agreements to describe how everything will work when a fire happens. One kind of formal agreement is done at the county level and is called an Annual Operating Plan. The plans are coordinated by CSFS districts and are signed by the county, state and any federal cooperators that have protection responsibilities within that county. The Routt County Office of Emergency Management takes the lead in writing and facilitating the Routt Annual Operating Plan, working closely with CSFS.

A key element of the AOP is the agreement to respond to any wildland fire with the closest firefighting resources, regardless of whose land the fire may have started on. This mutual aid response is an important reason why most fires are stopped before they can get very big. Mutual aid generally lasts about 24 hours. If the fire still is burning after that, the jurisdictional agency may have to pay for the expense of the fire from that point onward.

Fires on state and private lands in Routt County are ultimately the responsibility of the county.

If the fire becomes simply too big or complicated for the county to handle, there is a process through which the control (and cost) of the fire may be handed over to CSFS.

A large fire often will need more resources than are locally available.

The AOP also details how local county resources may be used outside the county, with the county’s permission. The agreement allows for the cost recovery from the use of the equipment and personnel.

This rarely happens in Routt County, but the West Routt Fire Protection District recently sent a fire engine to help at the historic Four Mile and Reservoir Road fires, again facilitated by CSFS.

The federal, state and local fire agencies in Routt County have a great record of cooperating on wildland fire in the county.

CSFS is proud to be a part of that cooperation.

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