Local firefighters prepping for wildfire season | SummitDaily.com

Local firefighters prepping for wildfire season

Summit Daily/Kristin Skvorc

SUMMIT COUNTY ” With the snowiest months traditionally still on the horizon in Summit County, wildfires probably aren’t on the forefront of most residents’ minds, but local firefighters’ efforts are already drifting toward the summertime concern.

Lt. Kyle Iseminger, who’s in charge of Lake Dillon Fire Authority’s wildland fire program, said he hopes to have the department’s three wildland rigs stocked and in service by April 1 ” a task that’s normally not completed until the end of April or mid-May.

“As everyone knows, it’s pretty dry on the Front Range,” Iseminger said, explaining that the Front Range is about six weeks ahead of its burning season. “We’re getting ramped up a little bit earlier so we can be available to help out if something big breaks out down there.”

In mid-February a 1,000-acre blaze burned near Longmont ” one of 40 fires recorded in Colorado since Jan. 1, according to the Rocky Mountain News.

In Summit County, firefighters are preparing to take their yearly pack tests ” walking three miles with a 45 pound pack strapped on their backs in 46.5 minutes or less or running one-and-a-half miles with the pack in 13 minutes or less ” and wildland certification courses.

Thursday, the fire danger in the county was low, and it will be difficult to predict what sort of wildfire season the High Country will have until the next two months play out, Iseminger said.

“If we get dumped on, the wildland season won’t start until later. If it keeps up like this, the really warm pattern, then we could definitely see an early fire season,” he said, adding that a lack of moisture in the spring and summer could also contribute to an active fire season.

Breckenridge’s Red, White and Blue Fire Department firefighters have had the opportunity to gain hands-on wildland experience this winter battling blazes in eastern Louisiana.

Capt. Doug Gerrald returned to Colorado on Feb. 26 following a 17-day FEMA deployment to help Louisiana’s Department of Agriculture and Forestry fight wildfires.

Gerrald and two fellow Red, White and Blue firefighters fought on an initial attack team nearly every day working to control fires as soon as they broke out.

“It’s just fire attack after fire attack, they seem nonstop,” Gerrald said.

But every hose they lugged toward the flames and every fire line they dug provided valuable lessons that the crew will use back at home.

“The biggest reason we get deployed whether it’s to Louisiana, or anywhere in the West, is so we can gain that experience and use that experience when we’re needed helping fight fires in the county,” Gerrald said.

In all, 10 Red, White and Blue firefighters will help in Louisiana over the course of nine weeks.

The department is also gearing up a new wildland-specific truck with hand tools, chainsaws and other fire equipment.

Wildfire preparations aren’t limited to the local fire departments.

The county’s incident management team will handle a mock wildfire scenario this spring in the Wildernest or Ptarmigan area, activating the county’s evacuation plan and its reverse-911 phone system, said Sheriff John Minor.

“It really is an area of concern. … It’s always been at the forefront, now with this pine beetle and everything else we’re seeing, it’s something we really want to work through and be prepared for,” Minor said.

The exercise will be important in other emergencies because the same command structure used for a wildfire response can be translated into a flood or a hazardous materials situation, Minor said.

Nicole Formosa can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13625, or at nformosa@summitdaily.com.

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