Local firefighters sent to New Mexico blaze


— Three people from Routt County are part of an 11-person team of northwestern Colorado firefighters who have travelled to New Mexico to fight out-of-control wildland fires there.

"There's more than one large fire in New Mexico, so they're not all in one place, but most of them are at the biggest one," said U.S. Forest Service Fire Management Officer Bruce Davenport.

Davenport said most of the people are at the Cerro Grand fire burning near Los Alamos, N.M.

The three local firefighters are Tommy John and Stacey Gray of the Forest Service, and Fred Conrath of the Bureau of Land Management, said Denise Germann, Forest Service public affairs officer. All three live in Steamboat Springs.

So far, the week-old blaze has forced roughly 11,000 residents of Los Alamos to be evacuated. The fire has destroyed an estimated 400 homes in the town and threatens nuclear facilities in the area, though officials say that nuclear materials are safe.

The other out-of-control fires receiving local help is the Cree fire near Ruidoso, N.M. That fire has forced the evacuation of four subdivisions in the area.

There are more than 1,300 people aiding the firefighting effort for the two fires.

The 11 people from northwest Colorado are volunteer firefighters from the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and the Parks Service.

They arrived in New Mexico on May 8 and will probably stay for two weeks.

"If depends. The normal assignment is 14 days, but that can be extended due to circumstances. What we try to do is replace them with someone else so we can get them home," Davenport said.

More firefighters from the area could be called to help in the New Mexico fires and blazes burning in Arizona.

The firefighters for the three public land management agencies are in a combined organization to cooperatively fight wildland fires. In the peak fire season, there could be as many as 100 people in the group.

"We're hooked into the national system," Davenport said. Nationally, authorities choose what districts will send firefighters to the blazes.

While in New Mexico, the firefighters will be paid their normal wage plus overtime. Davenport estimated that they will put in 14 hours. Also, the firefighters on the fire line get a 25 percent bonus per hour of hazard pay.

Because the two fires in New Mexico are on public lands, only public-land firefighters are sent to assist in the effort. Therefore, no firefighters from the Steamboat Springs Fire Departments have been sent to help control the blazes.

"We assist them if it's a local fires, but we don't travel," Fire Chief Bob Struble said.


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