Summit County fire agencies sent crews to help extinguish a dangerous wildfire on Wednesday.
Firefighters from Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue, the Red, White and Blue Fire Protection District and Copper Mountain Fire Department are providing relief for the 8,000-acre wildfire in the Black Forest area northeast of Colorado Springs. The fire has destroyed or damaged an estimated 80 to 100 homes and forced the evacuation of some 7,500 people, according to local fire agencies.
The deployment of Summit fire crews is part of a common practice among Colorado agencies to combine resources whenever possible.
“There will be a time when we need help and we will be calling on our fellow agencies,” said Dan Moroz, a public information officer with Copper Mountain Fire.
Deploying local teams to suppress wildfires in other parts of the state helps local agencies prepare for a fight of their own.
“It’s invaluable training and a mutual-aid type of operation between fire agencies,” Moroz said.
“It’s great for our guys to be there working on an intense fire,” Red, White and Blue deputy chief Jay Nelson said. “They can bring that knowledge and skill back to Summit County in the event of a wildfire.”
The Summit firefighters will get experience without cost to local taxpayers, said Steve Lipsher, Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue’s public affairs coordinator. Firefighter wages and equipment costs are typically covered by the state and federal governments through contracting agreements, he said.
Each of Summit’s fire agencies sent a three-member crew to the Black Forest wildfire. Copper Mountain sent Lt. Tim Schlough, firefighter/paramedic Russ Orton and engineer Mark Neilson in a Type VI four-wheel-drive engine.
Lake Dillon sent engine boss Dennis Jackson and wildland firefighters Frank Towers and Aaron Ferdig in a Type III four-wheel-drive wildland engine.
Red, White and Blue sent Capt. Keith McMillan, driver/operator Tim Caldwell and firefighter/paramedic Terrance Campbell in a Type VI four-wheel-drive engine.
The length of the local fire crews’ deployment will depend on the need for their services.
“If the fire dies down and there are enough resources on hand they will be sent back,” Moroz said. “If it becomes a continual battle they could be there anywhere up to two weeks potentially.”
When fire conditions permit them to do so, Summit County’s three fire departments are eager to send crews to wildfires in other areas.
“We can continue switching people out all summer long if we need it,” Nelson said.
But Summit agencies also consider local resources.
“We look at our own wildfire danger and staffing abilities because we don’t want the arrangements to affect our ability to fight wildfire in our county,” Nelson said. “We make sure to have the equipment and personnel needed to protect the community.”
The wildfire danger in Summit is moderate but is expected to increase over the coming weeks as summer sets in.
Fire officials are advising residents to put together an emergency evacuation kit to keep in their vehicles in the event a wildfire breaks out in Summit County. The kit should include clothing, toiletries, daily medications, non-perishable food and water for three days. Fire officials also advise residents to make copies of important documents and ensure their property insurance is adequate and up to date.