Fire ban possible as valley dries out

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— A two-day old fire on five acres of land near Sleeping Giant Mountain was brought under control Monday as local fire officials considered implementing a fire ban in Routt County.

The fire began Saturday as a controlled burn on private property but got out of control and spread to Bureau of Land Management land. The Steamboat Springs Fire Department responded to a call for help but turned it over to BLM crews shortly after the fire reached BLM land.

Routt County Emergency Manager Chuck Vale estimated there have been about 50 wildland fires in Routt County so far this year an unusually high number.

"We only did 44 last year in the whole season," Vale said.

The fires this year also have been bigger than most people can remember.

"This is definitely the worst, as far as the number of acres," Steamboat Fire Chief Bob Struble said. He has been fighting fire in the area for 20 years.

Besides exhausting fire crews, the active burning season has exhausted Routt County's wildland budget as well.

"I'm so far beyond the budget it is scary," Vale said.

His $2,500 budget for 2000 was quickly used up even before Vale had to buy a pump for $3,800. County commissioners took the average amount spent in the last three years to set the $2,500 budget.

"We just weren't spending that much money," Commissioner Ben Beall said.

In addition to number of fires, the county pays the firefighters a little more than they did last year, Beall added.

Today, the Wildland Fire Council will meet to discuss whether a fire ban is needed in Routt County because of the dry weather, Vale said.

"It's looking that way," Vale said.

Thirty-two of Colorado's 63 counties already have fire bans in place, and crews are fighting fires in two other counties today. But Routt County has had more precipitation in the last few months than those counties, Beall said.

If the council decides a ban is needed, it will make a recommendation to the county commissioners, who will make the final decision.

Vale also is making sure that equipment and personnel will be prepared to handle a dry summer. "Saturday is a good example," he said, referring to the Sleeping Giant fire. "It made Steamboat a little short of staff."

Vale wants to make sure there will enough firefighters with the proper equipment on hand to cover multiple fires, if possible. But prepared or not, Routt County firefighters are expecting to be busy at least through June.

To reach Doug Crowl call 871-4206 or e-mail dcrowl@amigo.net

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