New Vail fire chief has fought big wildfires |

New Vail fire chief has fought big wildfires

Preston Utley/Vail DailyMark Miller, Vail's new fire chief, battled the 11,000-acre Bobcat Gulch Fire in 2000 with the Loveland Fire Department.

VAIL, Colorado ” An immense wildfire breaks out at the edge of a national forest. The flames threaten homes. Lives are at risk. Government entities scramble to work together.

The scenario is considered a possibility in Vail.

Mark Miller has been through the real thing. Miller, Vail’s new fire chief, battled the 11,000-acre Bobcat Gulch Fire in 2000 with the Loveland Fire Department.

The fire took several days to contain. Several homes were destroyed, but no lives were lost. Miller helped coordinate the various agencies ” from local to federal groups ” who fought the fire.

“Now I know how it works, what needs to happen and who needs to be in what places,” Miller said.

Firefighters use the term “wildland-urban interface” when considering how civilization abuts forest land. There, fire can easily spread from homes to the forest, or vice versa.

And Miller has seen plenty of that “interface” in Vail.

“When I came into town and looked around, that was one thing that hit me,” he said.

Miller, 52, started his job in Vail this week, coming from Hartford, Vt., where he was also fire chief. Before that he worked for the Loveland Fire Department for 25 years, working his way up to chief.

Miller was chosen from a field of 63 candidates.

It was a desire to help people that got him into firefighting 28 years ago, Miller said. In taking the job in Vail, he wanted to move closer to family, he said.

Plus, the nature of the Vail job appealed to him.

“I’m real driven by change and challenges, and there’s lots of change and challenge going on in Vail,” he said.

Part of that change is a new fire station that’s planned for West Vail. The station will be at the site of the old Wendy’s, which Vail bought last year.

Wildfires are another challenge. Last summer, the town created a new wildland-fire hand crew that responded to wildfires and chopped down beetle-killed trees.

“Vail has been very proactive over the last couple of years in that area,” Miller said.

Miller also wants to increase the size of the department’s staff, he said.

“Right now, we’re a skeleton crew,” Miller said.

Miller loves the outdoors, things like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, fly-fishing and riding motorcycles. His downhill skiing is sure to improve, too, he said

“I’m not as good at that as I’d like to be,” he said.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or

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