Fuels, wildfires lead to open fire ban

Whenever fire officials scout Moffat County, they see and hear the same things, particularly west of the Continental Divide.

Thin winter snowpack levels coupled with minimal springtime moisture have resulted in an abundance of wildfire fuels throughout the county.

And an early start to the fire season on the Front Range has local firefighters bracing for what could be the busiest year in recent memory.

“We’ve had a flurry of activity already, although it has primarily been on private land,” said Lynn Barclay, public information officer for the Northwest Colorado Fire Management Unit. “And our fuels are burning down to white ash, which is a good indicator of an active fire,” added Dave Toelle, assistant fire management officer for the Bureau of Land Management.

In an effort to minimize the probability for a human-caused wildfire, lawmakers throughout the state have passed restrictions or bans on open fires.

The Moffat County Commission joined the effort Tuesday when they unanimously passed a resolution banning open fires in unincorporated Moffat County.

The resolution’s passage prompted officials with the Northwest Colorado Fire Management Unit, encompassing Moffat, Routt, Rio Blanco, Jackson and Grand counties, to announce fire restrictions or bans are now in effect at Dinosaur National Monument, Routt National Forest, White River National Forest, and in all five member counties.

Barclay and a number of local firefighters are on the Front Range assisting with the containment of the High Park Fire near Fort Collins.

The High Park Fire has grown to more than 50,000 acres since it was first reported Saturday and has reached 10-percent containment.

The High Park Fire is another example of why local firefighters began training last month for what is anticipated to be a busy wildfire season. In May, co-operators of the Northwest Colorado Fire Management Unit, including firefighters from the Bureau of Land Management, National Parks Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Colorado State Forest Service and Moffat County Sheriff’s Office, participated in a two-day fire engine orientation at Loudy-Simpson Park and the Moffat County Fairgrounds in Craig.

The annual orientation blends classroom learning with traditional and non-traditional training exercises.

“We’re introducing the concept of leader’s intent,” Toelle said. “Our expectations are action to be taken for a variety of fires, firefighter safety and training concepts.”

Firefighters completed a number of training exercises aimed at improving verbal and nonverbal communication skills, preventative vehicle maintenance, and proper execution of a mobile attack. Craig Fire/Rescue firefighters assisted in the orientation by providing fire hydrant training.

“We are not structural firefighters … that is not our training … that is not what we do,” Toelle said. “A lot of times our guys don’t suck water out of a hydrant because there aren’t hydrants where we usually operate.

“But, we want them to be real familiar with how to pull water out of a hydrant for those times when we’re asked to respond to something like an urban interface fire.”

One of the more important stages of the firefighter training was focused on mobile attack tactics, which are utilized to fight sagebrush and grass fires, Barclay said.

A mobile attack strategy is when two or more firefighters walk alongside a moving fire engine and knock down the fire with hoses.

“It’s a good opportunity for these guys to get familiar with each other, so the driver knows how fast he can drive, for example,” Barclay said. “We do that out here in the Great Divide or out by Maybell where we have those big fires. We use a mobile attack strategy if there is an opportunity to be aggressive and knock the fire down that way.”

But at the end of the day, nothing comes before safety, BLM officials said.

“There is nothing so important out here that we can’t step back and do everything safely,” said Colt Mortenson, BLM fire management officer. “Sometimes the best thing to do is step back, set in a safety zone and wait for additional resources. “That changes when we have big values at risk — property, someone’s house, life — but we still need to do it safely.”

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