Friday, May 10, 2013

Colorado wildfires: Crews prepare for worst, expect average season

Jordan Steffen in the Denver Post: Spring rains and snow have made it unlikely there will be a repeat of last year's wildfire season — during which six people died and about 650 homes were destroyed — but fire crews in Colorado are prepared for the worst. Crews are stationed across the state, and fire management officers are looking for ways to mobilize equipment and firefighters to wildland blazes within hours instead of days.

Still, Coloradans must remain vigilant during what is predicted to be an average, and yet challenging, fire season in most areas of the state, Gov. John Hickenlooper said Thursday morning during his annual fire briefing. "It's important to recognize that it's not fighting fires, but preparing to fight fires," he said. "Coupled with that preparedness is prevention."

By this time last year, the Lower North Fork wildfire had already scorched thousands of acres in Jefferson County after embers from a state prescribed burn sparked the blaze. Local emergency-response agencies struggled to assess the speed of the fire and waited to order evacuations as the fire burned toward homes. Three people were killed in the fire, and almost two dozen homes were destroyed.

After that fire, Hickenlooper moved the firefighting and controlled-burn responsibilities of the Colorado Forest Service and the state Division of Emergency Management under the command of the Colorado Department of Public Safety.

Under the new structure, and using lessons from multiple massive, devastating wildfires last year, state fire management officers spent the fall and winter months working with local responders to develop plans to mobilize and organize emergency resources faster, said Paul Cooke, director of the Division of Fire Prevention and Control at the Colorado Department of Public Safety...

Nebraska National Guard crewmembers of Company C 2nd-135th General Support Aviation Battalion dump water from a Bambi bucket onto flames of the High Park fire, in Larimer County, Colo., approximately 15 miles west of Fort Collins, June 18, 2012. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Tate Petersen, Company C, 2nd-135th General Support Aviation Support), Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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