Summit County’s fire departments fully staffed
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Even with firefighting crews and equipment pouring in from around the country, incident managers at major fires in Colorado are scrambling to find the resources needed to tackle new fires as they start.
“It’s safe to say we’re a little thin on the West Slope right now,” said Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue deputy chief Jeff Berino, discussing how, in his role as a regional incident commander, he’s been studying the best way to deploy firefighters to specific incidents while keeping enough personnel in reserve to respond to new calls.
In the latest incident, Berino said firefighters from around the area are being sent to what is now a 700-acre fire near Grand Junction, the Pine Ridge Fire.
“We’re sending resources up there … the whole state is getting tested,” Berino said, adding that local high country fire departments remain fully staffed and all local engines remain in the area.
“In Summit County – 100 percent of our folks are here … but incident commanders are competing for resources … For management, planning, the overhead personnel, doing logistics,” he added.
“This is going to be a good test of the overall system. “We’re ready to help when needed, but we have to balance it with safety in the county,” he said.
“If we get an incident, we may be on our own for a little bit,” he said, adding that there could be mutual aid from neighboring communities. “But we not get the immediate help we might otherwise get from feds,” he added.
Support staff are critical to keeping fire operations running smoothly. That includes everything from housing and feeding the firefighter crews to analyzing weather, doing the needed mapping and site-specific planning.
Additional national resources can help with that support role, and even though there has been no formal statewide disaster declaration, federal backup could be arriving.
“The information I’m getting is that national guard units have been mobilized,” he said.
Berino said that, at the national level, the Forest Service has called in an area command team, a national resource that takes a high-level view, balancing priorities, and “managing the chess pieces,” according to Berino.
The Forest Service also deployed additional readiness teams on the White River National Forest with special two-week severity funding, but Berino said that, from what he’s seen, those resources are rapidly being deployed and sent to other fires.
Unless there’s a major change in the weather, the fire danger, wavering between extreme and very high, could linger for weeks. At both ratings, fires can start easily from small flames like matches, cigarettes or sparks and spread rapidly.
“We’ve taken some rain in parts of the county, so the fire danger is very high, down from extreme, but it’s really just a few sprinkles. We can’t let our guard down,” he said.
The big question on everyone’s mind is whether Summit County could see a conflagration on the scale of the Waldo Canyon or High Park fires.
Answering cautiously, Berino said it’s all dependent on weather, and the other key ingredients for fire, fuel and topography.
“If you align fuel issues, wind and topography … we’re not immune to any of them here in Summit County,” he concluded.
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