Our view: Reducing wildfire risk | SteamboatToday.com

Our view: Reducing wildfire risk

With wildfire season upon us, we were pleased to learn that Routt County has a new weapon in its arsenal of firefighting tools.

Routt County Emergency Management Director Mo DeMorat announced last week the Civil Air Patrol's Colorado Wing, which is an auxiliary arm of the U.S. Air Force, will be supplying the county with fire watch support and providing information and guidance to local firefighting crews dispatched to fight fires in remote areas this fire season.

DeMorat, who has done a stellar job for the county since his hiring in February 2017, explained that Civil Air Patrol would be used in the case of larger wildfires that are spreading. Pilots could fly over the fire and identify hot spots before they get out of control.

Bob Adams Airport in Steamboat is where one of the 14 Civil Air Patrol planes in Colorado is located, which puts the help that much closer to home. The Steamboat Springs Composite Squadron includes five pilots and five other crew members who serve as scanners and photographers.

Wildfires are costly and require tremendous manpower to fight, and the state is predicting an active fire season this summer and fall.

Last year, the Deep Creek Fire, which raged northeast of Hayden, cost more than $2 million to fight, and when it was at its largest — more than 4,000 acres — there were 293 people working to contain it. That fire was the biggest fire Routt County had seen since 2002 when 41,900 acres burned in the Routt National Forest.

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Currently, Routt County's fire danger is rated as moderate, but conditions can change quickly and vary from town to town. At this time of the year, it is important that people alert their local fire departments when they are planning to do controlled burns. If this step is taken, dispatchers can let callers know the fire is controlled and keep firefighters from being called out unnecessarily.

The local emergency management department is also urging outdoor enthusiasts to remain cautious and observe the following fire safety precautions when working or recreating on public and private lands.

1. Never leave a campfire unattended, even to go for a short hike. The wind can blow sparks and cause a wildfire.

2. Build only a small fire on bare soil with brush cleared away, and try to use an existing fire ring.

3. Pour water on the ashes and stir them, making sure the ashes and any unburned wood are cold to the touch before leaving.

In addition to following fire safety protocol, we encourage area residents to sign up for the county's emergency alert system. Emergency management uses the system to keep people updated on emergency situations, including wildfires. It's much easier to send out an alert that goes to thousands of people's cellphones, rather than going door to door in an emergency as was the case when the Deep Creek Fire threatened a residential area last fall.

According to DeMorat, 25 homes were on the verge of being threatened by the Deep Creek Fire, and only two of those homeowners had signed up for public alerts. As a result, sheriff's deputies were sent out and went door to door alerting people of the potential danger, which took them two hours when an alert would have been instantaneous.

Signing up to receive alerts from the county is simple. Visit routtcountyalerts.com and follow the prompts.

At issue: It’s wildfire season, and Routt County is already preparing by announcing a new firefighting tool.

Our view: Firefighters risk their lives to protect people and property, and citizens have a responsibility to do their part by following fire safety precautions and sign up for emergency alerts.