Summit County is in a precarious position because of the shutdown of the federal government, Summit County Sheriff John Minor said Tuesday.
Minor dropped in on the tail end of the Summit Board of County Commissioner’s workshop meeting in Breckenridge Tuesday to alert commissioners that the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit in Grand Junction closed as a result of the government shutdown and relieved its federal firefighters without pay.
“We have a problem,” Minor said. “Fall is typically when we have our wildfires, and since you’re meeting with CCI (Colorado Counties Inc.), it might be a good idea to send a letter to our congressional delegation telling them to restore federal firefighting funds to Colorado.”
Minor was referencing a comment Commissioner Thomas Davidson made about meeting Friday with Colorado Counties representatives in Denver.
The Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit is headquartered at the Grand Junction Air Center. It allocates federal firefighting resources, including air tankers and ground personnel, from the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service, and serves the Interstate 70 corridor, including Summit, Eagle, Mesa, Garfield, Pitkin and Rio Blanco counties.
Federal firefighters are typically dispatched to massive wildfires on federal lands within the state or to assist local agencies fight fires that exceed their resource capabilities.
Minor received the news about the dispatch center’s shutdown by email. Although he would not share that email with the Summit Daily News, he summarized its contents.
Despite an immediate shutdown of the interagency unit and relieving federal firefighters of their duties without pay, the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit’s dispatch center will continue to operate through the shutdown on a limited basis, Minor said. Firefighters have been placed on two-hour call and are requested to remain near their bases to respond to emergencies.
“I don’t know what a two-hour call back means in their organization, but if we placed an officer on two-hour call he would have two hours to get his butt to the scene of a crime,” Minor said. “A lot can happen in two hours, especially when you’re talking about wildfires.”
Fire danger in Summit County is currently rated as low, according to the Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue website.