City standing firm in wildland fire dispute

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— Although the Routt County commissioners have continually expressed their desire to keep Steamboat Springs in the business of fighting wildland fires, the city remains unmoved.
City Council members voted Tuesday to uphold City Manager Paul Hughes and Public Safety Director J.D. Hays' recommendation not to help fight fires outside of Steamboat in 2001 unless the county provides resources the city fire department says it needs.
"The city's position is clear. It is exactly the same position that we took with regard to staying with the fire district," Hughes said Wednesday. "We cannot commit to doing it again in 2001 unless we have the resources that our professional firefighters believe they have to have to do the job properly. We still hold out the hope that those issues could still be resolved before we do have to make a final decision on 2001."
Fire Chief Bob Struble has asked for a truck and a seasonal fire crew that could be shared by all of the participating fire districts.
The city has been fighting fires in surrounding rural areas all summer, but fire department officials have complained of the lack of adequate resources to continue their efforts. The city and county have an agreement, called a memorandum of understanding, stating the city will make the initial attack on wildfires and will be reimbursed for its work by the county. By statute, wildland fires are the county's responsibility, but without a fire department of its own, Routt County has agreements that secure help from all area fire districts.
In a letter sent to the city manager dated Sept. 8, Routt County Commissioner Ben Beall stated that the county is still willing to sit down and discuss this issue with the city but hopes that the city will commit to wildland firefighting through at least 2001 for the time being.
At the council meeting, Hughes characterized the county's request as "disappointing" in light of their failure to accede to the city's demands for resources.
"There's general agreement about what is going to be necessary to do this, so it shouldn't be that difficult to give us a yes or no answer," Hughes said.
In the letter he sent to Hughes, Beall insisted that all of the other fire districts in the county have already committed to fighting wildland fires through 2001.
If Steamboat opts out of the memorandum, those initial rural fires would have to be fought by the county, unless other districts agreed to pick up the slack and send crews to the Steamboat area.
Hughes wrote a letter to the county commissioners Wednesday to update them on Steamboat's position. Meanwhile, the city and county are open to further discussion before budget decisions are made.
Although he did not offer any concrete solutions, Beall is optimistic about the county's ability to convince the city to remain in the agreement.
"We'll find a way to skin this cat," he said. "I think the city of Steamboat Springs will be satisfied in the end."
Beall said that he plans to hold a meeting sometime in mid-October. The Wildland Fire Council next meets at 6 p.m. Nov. 16.

To reach Avi Salzman call 871-4203 or e-mail asalzman@amigo.net

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