Steamboat Springs In the past two months, the Wildland Fire Council has made some significant progress that has some Routt County officials optimistic every fire district will participate in the county program this year.
The work the fire council has done so far has Routt County Emergency Services Director Chuck Vale and Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak hopeful that in March Steamboat Springs will rejoin the council.
"There is a real good chance of Steamboat Springs signing the Memorandum of Understanding," Stahoviak said.
Last year, the Steamboat Springs Fire Department and Steamboat Springs Rural Fire Protection District chose not to sign the county's MOU.
The two agencies declined to participate because they felt the county did not provide adequate resources to fight wildland fires.
The Oak Creek, Yampa and West and North Routt fire protection districts and the state and U.S. forest services did sign the MOU.
By not signing the agreement, Steamboat Springs was not reimbursed by the county for an $1,800 wildland fire it fought last summer.
Because of the concerns raised last year and the rise in wildland fire calls, the fire council has been meeting with county and Steamboat officials since November to prepare for this upcoming wildland fire season.
"So far we have had good discussions," Vale said. "We still have to address a couple of issues.
"I'm very hopeful all parties will agree to the MOU, and the issues that have been raised will be answered."
The results of the meetings have Steamboat Springs Assistant Fire Chief Bob Struble optimistic.
Struble, who will make a recommendation to Steamboat officials, said he is pleased county and city officials are attending the meetings and learning about the issues.
"The meetings have been very productive," he said. "We are making a lot of progress."
Whether Steamboat signs the MOU will be decided by the City Council, he said.
The issues that led to Steamboat's departure last year will be addressed by the council during its next meeting, which is set for 6 p.m. Thursday at Centennial Hall.
Since December, the council has been updating a study that was completed in 2000. The study recommends the county should provide its members with equipment and manpower to fight wildland fires.
The report concludes the county needs to hire nine full-time seasonal firefighters and add three engines by 2003. However, the county did not act on the study's conclusions, which resulted in Steamboat Springs' absence.
"We all recognize and agree we need to address the manpower issue because we rely on volunteers," Stahoviak said. "There also may be a need for equipment.
"How do we work together to address these needs?"
Vale is hopeful answers to these issues can be gained fairly quickly because the group must also address the operating plan for the coming year.
Wildland fires have become an issue for the county because they have been on the rise. In 1999, the county had 44 fires. In 2000, the number jumped to more than 100. Last year, the county dealt with 93.