Steamboat Springs Area law enforcement officers on Friday tried to calm residents concerned about the Rainbow Gathering 30 miles north of Steamboat Springs.
Officers from the U.S. Forest Service, Steamboat Springs police and fire departments, Routt County Department of Environmental Health, North Routt Fire Protection District and Routt County Sheriff's Office held a community meeting Friday to answer questions and explain to the general public how to best handle the July 1 to 7 annual gathering of the Rainbow Family of Living Light, which is being held at Big Red Park north of Columbine.
Police Capt. Joel Rae told residents that everyone should be more aware of locking cars and homes and safeguarding personal possessions and belongings.
"It's up to you to take the precautions and measures to protect yourself and your belongings," he said.
Rae said the police department has dealt with minor issues related to the gathering nearly every day for the past two weeks. Those issues include panhandling, hitchhiking, illegal camping, theft and loitering. He asked the community to report any suspicious or unusual behavior.
One resident was concerned that the police department's response times will increase since officers will be tied up handling Rainbow Family complaints, which Rae said is most likely not going to be an issue.
"Our response time will actually be quicker. Obviously it's going to depend on what we've got going on. Like we always have, we prioritize our calls. Personal safety is above everything else," he said. "We'll always respond to the most important calls first. I really don't envision us being any slower than we already are."
Officers also reminded concerned business owners to stock up on inventory and staff levels if possible.
"It's really up to the business owner to figure out what you need to do," he said. "We'll have more a police presence, but we aren't going to have officers in every store."
Rae reminded residents that the problems they're seeing in the media are not characteristic of the entire group.
"We can't stereotype an entire group of people. This shouldn't be a widespread panic," he said. "Don't let the rumors run rampant."
While some residents were concerned about city and county resources being spread thin, most were concerned about how the county would handle a major emergency like a fire.
Kent Foster, a U.S. Forest Service fire management officer, said the Forest Service, Sheriff's Office and area fire departments are well aware of the fire dangers and have been communicating with Rainbow Family members to ensure they understand the risks.
"Fire danger is a huge concern of ours," he said. "Right now between 60 and 70 percent of the conifer stands are dead. They're in a one-way in, one-way out area surrounded by dead trees."
U.S. Forest Service operations chief Bryan Roemeling said he and his officers have been patrolling inside the camps and warning Rainbow Family members of the dangers of letting fires get out of control, using fireworks and dry lightning.
For the most part, the Rainbow Family has been cooperative and understanding, he said.
"I can't emphasize enough how much energy we're spending trying to spread the word. We're trying to do everything we can to let people know how dangerous it is," he said. "That's all we can do. I have to rely on them to trust that we know what we're doing."
If a fire were to begin, Rainbow Family members would be herded to a meadow and would be evacuated from there, Roemeling said.
One resident asked why the U.S. Forest Service wasn't doing more to shut down the camp and tell them to leave.
"We can ask them to cooperate, but they don't always listen to what we want them to do," Roemeling said. "We can lay it all out on the table, but we can't escort every single person from the national forest lands. That's the reality of it. The only thing we could do was call in the National Guard to remove them. I don't think that's what we want to do."
Forest Service spokeswoman Kim Vogel reminded the group that the Rainbows have a constitutional right to peaceably assemble.
"We just have to respect their rights and balance that with our resources," she said.
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