Craig will be home to 'Hot Shot' firefighters

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— A 20-person crew of wildfire-fighting experts will someday call Moffat County home and could provide key support for local fire suppression and prevention efforts.

The Hot Shots team scheduled to be headquartered in Craig is one result of the $1.8 billion National Fire Plan, a recently funded mandate from the U.S. Congress, said Lynn Barclay, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management.

Craig is home to a public lands fire dispatch center that organizes the national firefighting efforts of the BLM and U.S. Forest Service. That fact and the city's location on the Western Slope near Wyoming made it a logical choice for a Hot Shots base, Barclay said.

The National Fire Plan was a reaction to the numerous wildfires that blackened many parts of the country, including Colorado, last summer. In addition to paying for more Hot Shots crews, the plan outlines steps to be taken to prevent wildfires, such as the prescribed burns planned for the Routt National Forest.

The professional Hot Shots crews are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week and are trained to dig and clear fire lines around a raging wildfire, on often rugged terrain.

A Type I crew, which is what Craig will get, stays together throughout the fire season and moves from fire to fire. A Type II team is usually put together at the beginning of a fire and then is split up after its work is done.

Kent Foster, a Forest Service fire management officer in Steamboat Springs, said a Type I team is key to have close by because of its ability to react quickly and effectively in any battle against a wildland blaze.

The crew members also can be resources on other Forest Service projects. "We will have their expertise to help us out with the prescribed fires that we are proposing," he said.

Though the Moffat County crew will primarily support regional firefighting efforts in Colorado and Wyoming, it, like all Hot Shots crews, will be on call nationally. Hot Shots members are the first to be shipped out to anyplace where extra help is needed fighting a wildfire.

There are several Hot Shots crews based around the state, but the closest one to northwest Colorado is in Estes Park. Barclay said the placement of the team in Moffat County means there will be more resources to pull from if a wildfire is started around here.

The BLM office in Craig also has been appropriated funds to build a station to house the crew's equipment, Barclay said. The BLM is looking at three sites for the building, but nothing has been decided. In the meantime, a temporary site has been chosen.

The BLM is still going through the hiring process to fill the positions. The complete crew is expected to clock into work for the first time in May.

"We're actually waiting for a list (of candidates) to come so we can make selections for the crew," Barclay said.

One position has been filled. Stu Gore of Taos, N.M., has been named crew superintendent and will oversee the 20-man team.

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