Routt County firefighters ready for tree hazards

Plan being reviewed for fighting wildfires in Routt County

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— Firefighting agencies in Routt County especially will be on guard for falling pine trees when responding to wildland fires this summer.

Routt County Director of Emergency Management Bob Struble presented the 2010 Tactical Operation Plan for fighting wildfires to the Routt County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday. He said very few modifications were made to the existing plan this year, but special attention was paid to the hazards of standing dead trees left behind by the bark beetle infestation.

“We’re incorporating hazard tree safety into the plan,” Struble told the commissioners.

Commission Chairwoman Nancy Stahoviak represented Routt County among 11 agencies reviewing the plan, which now calls for firefighters to reassess their situation and possibly withdraw from a fire scene when there are thunderstorms in the immediate vicinity or wind speeds strong enough to move the tree canopy.

The many thousands of dead lodgepole pines left by the beetle have changed the rate at which surface fires spread and accelerated the transition to a crown fire when needles remain on the trees. However, the trees are a danger to firefighters even when fires aren’t spreading, if high wind causes them to fall unpredictably.

The county’s Tactical Oper­ation Plan covers a wide range of strategies, from how to use aircraft to patient support. Struble said an interagency tabletop drill in March devoted five hours primarily to the many kinds of paperwork associated with fire suppression.

“It was very well attended, and I think, an excellent training,” Struble said.

Other public officials signing off on the plan included Routt County Sheriff Gary Wall; Colorado State Forest Service District Forester John Twitchell; Mary Peterson, forest supervisor of the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests; David Blackstun, acting field manager of the Bureau of Land Management’s Little Snake Field Office; Chief Ron Lindroth, of Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue; Chief Bob Reilley, of the North Routt Fire Protection District; Chief Chuck Wisecup, of the Oak Creek Fire Protection District; Chief Bryan Rickman, of the West Routt Fire Protection District; Chief Dan Allen, of the Yampa Fire Protection District; and Chief Bill Johnston, of Craig Fire Rescue.

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