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More firefighting help on the way

Cliff Thompson

“Fuel moisture now in the forests is probably similar to what Yellowstone was like,” says Phil Bowden, who coordinates firefighting plans for the 4 million acres of BLM and U.S. Forest Service land along the Interstate 70 corridor from the Eisenhower Tunnel west to the Utah state line.

Yellowstone experienced huge fires 12 years ago when a combination of drought and buildup of fuelwood was sparked by lightning. Those fires burned all summer and were finally extinguished by winter snows.

Bowden says the moisture level in large, dead logs in the forest, known as “thousand-hour fuels,” is now at 7 to 9 percent. By comparison, the typical moisture content of kiln-dried lumber purchased in a building center is 12 to 15 percent.

Bowden says the money will be used for a 20-person firefighting “Hot Shot” crew, fire dispatchers, an additional helicopter to douse hot spots, and to pay for the expected accrual of overtime by existing personnel.

“We’re just getting additional staffing, so if we get fires we have the capability to get there and to fight them,” he says.

There will also be seven-day-a-week staffing. It is not yet know where the additional equipment and personnel will be based.

One ace for drought-stricken Colorado is the fact that Montana and Idaho have been doused by repeated snow and rain, lessening the need for firefighting resources there. Those resources could be reassigned to Colorado, where more then 450 wildfires have already been reported this year.

“Most of the problem areas are at lower elevations,” says Bowden.

Higher elevation lands are not yet dry, he explains.

Eagle County is under an open fire restriction. Fires are limited to developed campgrounds on public lands.

“It will be nice to have a few extra people,” Bowden says.


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