Wildfire issue smolders

County emphasizes Steamboat's absence on council

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— Routt County commissioners clarified Monday that they will not pay the Steamboat Springs Rural Fire Protection District or the city for fighting wildland fires.

The clarification came after the city of Steamboat Springs published a statement that implied Steamboat Rural and the city were part of the wildland fire council.

"We do not have to pay (Steamboat Rural) anything to put out wildfires," Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said.

The county helps fire districts cover costs to put out wildland fires, but only if they are part of the wildland fire council.

Steamboat Rural and the city pulled out of the wildland fire council late last year after the county refused to pay for new fire trucks and firefighters.

The city, which actually covers Steamboat Rural (the area immediately surrounding the city), had felt it was pulling too many of its resources out of the city to cover wildfires.

City officials wanted the county to buy three engines and hire nine fire fighters over a 3-year period to help defray the pressure.

It has been the county commissioners' stance that they are already going above and beyond what is required of them.

"We are the only county of our size and of our rural nature that does what we do for our fire districts," Stahoviak said.

She said only the big urban counties on the Front Range and one county in western Colorado actually have some of their own firefighting resources. Mesa County on the Western Slope has a population of more than 100,000.

By state statute, the county sheriff is supposed to be financially responsible for wildland fires.

But another statute states that the sheriff is only responsible for those areas not covered by special fire districts that collect taxes from their citizens.

The county has been paying for wildland fire supression in all of the fire districts, even though the districts collect taxes.

"We feel we are doing more than other counties, and more than we are required to do, by reimbursing fire districts for their intitial wildfire response, even within their districts," Stahoviak said.

During the 2000 fire season, Routt County paid out $71,445 to five fire districts and private companies that assisted in wildfire supression.

About $10,870 went to Steamboat Rural.

The city's public safety director J.D. Hays confirmed they're not expecting anything from the county.

"We will respond (to wildfires), even without reimbursement," Hays said.

"We'll absorb the cost."

Hays said he doesn't know how the money issue will affect the city this fire season.

Steamboat Rural and the city have been attending wildland fire council meetings, giving hope that they might rejoin.

Hays said that is something that had to be answered by city manager Paul Hughes, who takes direction from city council.

Hughes was out of town and couldn't be reached for comment.

"You know our stance on this," Hays said about what the city needs for fire protection. "We need help."

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