Summit County firefighters, paramedics deploy to battle wildfires
Reinforcements from Summit County have arrived to two Colorado wildfires that started late last week.
All three of the region’s fire departments have crews, each with a wildland engine, at the human-triggered Cold Springs Fire two miles northeast of Nederland in Boulder County. As of Sunday, three-man units from Copper Mountain Fire, Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue and Red, White & Blue Fire Protection District descended on the scene to lend a hand.
“Mutual aid is critical to help bring in the resources that local communities just do not have in their backyard,” said County Commissioner Dan Gibbs. “It is everything. And I think it’s really important for local firefighters here in Summit County to get experience fighting fires in other communities.”
Not only that, but the Copper crew is being joined on its two-week deployment by Summit County Ambulance Service (SCAS) paramedic Tony Marzo. Meanwhile, Kyle Miller headed south in a Ford Explorer to the much larger Hayden Pass Fire three miles southwest of Coaldale, in Fremont County, as an individual-resource paramedic.
“It provides an experienced paramedic who is wildland fire trained to be on the line and to be solely responsible for the medical well-being of the wildland firefighters,” said Jamie Woodworth, SCAS’s director. “If we work in tandem like this, we can send the medical expertise, and (fire departments) can send the wildland firefighting expertise.”
Whether a firefighter or medic, sending local personnel comes at no cost to the region because the federal government pays for them and supplies to be there, as well as the backfill costs back home. As for medics, their specific tasks include ensuring firefighters stay hydrated in the intense heat, applying moleskin for blisters and burns, as well as tending to severe injuries or issues that might arise during the operation.
“We send them with enough equipment to be prepared for pretty much any emergency up to and including true medical emergencies involving respiratory or cardiac issues,” said Woodworth.
As of Tuesday morning, the Cold Springs Fire had scorched more than 600 acres, forced the evacuation of nearly 2,000 area residents and destroyed eight homes and seven outbuildings. Nearly 500 personnel are on ground battling the blaze that began on Saturday, July 9 at about 1:45 p.m.
The Hayden Pass Fire, which is suspected to have started naturally the night before due to lightning, has grown to more than 12,000 acres about 20 miles southeast of Salida. The site now has about 170 personnel, though the rural area of approximately 250 residents has required only pre-evacuation orders.
Similar to how Lake Dillon and Copper crews previously functioned 15 miles northwest of Walden in Jackson County at the ongoing Beaver Creek Fire — now more than 19,000 acres burned and counting — firefighters will take on like responsibilities at these other locations. That entails 6 a.m.-to-10 p.m. shifts following a briefing over breakfast. From there, they take their daily assignment performing one of three duties: structural protection, fire line carving or safety lookout.
This system is in place to manage the fire, while ensuring the safety of those who are on the ground. That means saving lives, homes and important public dwellings and utilities — in that order.
“That’s always the three main goals,” said Gibbs, “human life, houses and critical infrastructure.”
Gibbs, who is also a certified wildlands firefighter and could himself be called onto one of those fires or another later on, estimates an average of about 25 wildfire incidents across the state annually. Summit County has luckily avoided such an incident locally, but it doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen. Which is why he believes that sending our region’s specialists to help other communities, while also gaining vital on-the-ground experience, is crucial.
“Right now, we have about 156,000 acres of dead trees,” he said. “To get on large-scale fires knowing that we in Summit County are potentially one lighting strike away from a major, catastrophic event … I think is really important. It’s not a matter of if, it’s when — in my opinion — we have a larger-scale fire in Summit County. It’s just invaluable for firefighters to get that training.”
For updates on these three fires, or any throughout the country, visit: http://inciweb.nwcg.gov and select a state and incident in the upper right corner of the webpage.
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