County unveils map to identify wildfire hazards

Fire-suppression plans could be developed

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— The key to Routt County and local fire districts getting a stranglehold on wildland fires may lie with a map that has been in the development stages for the past four years.

Recently, Routt County's Information System Department completed a map that identifies areas of the county where wildland fires are a hazard.

The preliminary map was unveiled to the Wildland Fire Council Thursday night. Members of the council, which consists of officials from Oak Creek, Yampa, Steamboat Springs and the West and North Routt fire protection districts and the state and U.S. forest services, were impressed with the map.

Fire protection officials believe the map could be helpful in developing fire-suppression plans in high hazard areas.

"This map can help us prioritize where to develop fire-suppression plans in the county," said Chuck Vale, county emergency service director.

Officials also said the map could be used to identify where existing residential developments fall within high hazard areas.

"This map gives us a tool where we can go out and fine tune our efforts," Steamboat Springs Assistant Fire Chief Bob Struble said. "It will be very useful for us."

Vale also said the map could be useful for future residential development proposals.

Vale said the county is concerned about houses being built in rural parts of the county.

The map could be overlaid on top of the development proposal to determine if a wildland fire hazard exists, he said.

Information System Department analysts Mo Valenta and Robert Felinczak developed the map, which was filled with red, orange, pink and green colors.

The red color on the map signifies a high hazard and the green colors signified a low hazard.

Valenta and Felinczak compiled the map using maps supplied by the U.S. Forest Service.

Using global positioning software, Valenta and Felinczak were able to create the map, which designates fire hazards based on vegetation. Shrub and timber fire hazards are identified on the map.

Valenta and Felinczak plan to develop specific details for each fire district. For each district, total hazard acreage will be available, along with lands that are owned by the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and private property owners.

Other information that could be used for the map include areas that have a history of fires and lightning strikes.

The map could also be used to further develop a county fire management plan, which is in the preliminary stages.

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.

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