Opinion | Linda Harmon: Let’s say ‘thanks’ to the sheriff and our fire management team | SummitDaily.com

Opinion | Linda Harmon: Let’s say ‘thanks’ to the sheriff and our fire management team

It’s winter, and in past years, we wouldn’t be thinking about fire season. But as former Summit Fire & EMS Chief Jeff Berino noted, the fire season is not over until there is a foot of snow on the ground. Whether you believe in climate change, fires can happen any time of year, as we recently saw in Boulder County. Unusual maybe, but more likely the new normal for Colorado and Summit County.

In light of the huge fires we’ve seen in other Colorado counties during the past year, we are blessed in Summit to have a talented, forward-thinking team overseeing our fire management. Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons, a Democrat who by law is the statutory fire warden of the county, leads the way, along with Summit Fire & EMS Chief Travis Davis.

If we lived in Grand County or Larimer County, we would have the reality of dealing with a very expensive situation, both damaging to residents and costly for the county government. Ironically, both sheriffs in these counties are Republican. While political party affiliation may not matter when it comes to fire management expertise, it is interesting to see representatives of a political party that claims to be more fiscally responsible costing their counties tremendous sums of money.

“The law says that once fire chiefs either can’t control the fire or extinguish it, or it escapes their capabilities, they have the ability to reach out to the sheriff,” FitzSimons said. “Then by statute, they can transfer the fire to me. With my agreement, I take control of not only suppression efforts of the wildfire but then incur the financial responsibility for the county of suppression of that fire.”

Under FitzSimons, our county has managed to survive four fires in five years with no structures and minimal acreage burned compared to many other Colorado fires. This ultimately saved our county lots of heartbreak and hundreds of millions of dollars.

In 2017, the Peak Two Fire burned about 84 acres, in 2018 the Buffalo Mountain Fire burned 91 acres, in 2020 the Straight Creek Fire burned 8 acres, and in 2021, the Ptarmigan Fire burn 86 acres. This totals approximately 269 acres with no structures burning and no loss of life.

Compare this to the Cameron Peak Fire, which started in Larimer County, burned 208,913 acres, 469 structures and cost $6.3 million. The East Troublesome Fire started in Grand County, burned 193,812 acres and 580 structures. It also resulted in two people being killed and costing $543 million.

With the record-breaking temperatures and lack of precipitation, coupled with the large amounts of standing dead trees from beetle kill, these Summit County fires could have been much worse. All four fires had numerous structures extremely close to where the fires started, providing an additional challenge to stop the highly flammable burn area before it reached nearby homes and businesses. Our effective and aggressive fire management team proved priceless for homeowners and a financial win for the county.

While this Summit County fire management team has a great deal to be proud of, it is not resting on its laurels. Instead, it is having ongoing conversations about how firefighting and working as a collaborative team can ensure future success. As recently as mid-November 2021, the team held a community meeting to discuss ongoing work. Its dedication to this mission is very important since the White River National Forest in Summit County sits close to where residents and business structures exists.

As a Democrat in Summit County, I am very proud of Fitzsimons. He brings outstanding leadership and sound guidance during times of crisis, and he does it all with a great sense of humor.

Regardless of his party affiliation, we owe him and our fire chiefs a big “thank you” for managing these recent fires. As a resistant who lives very close to the Ptarmigan Fire, I was relieved to know Fitzsimons would be overseeing the situation as he always does: with professionalism and a steady hand.

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