Fire Council may break into two entities

— Routt County's Wildland Fire Council would split into two groups under a proposed memorandum of understanding that will be presented to the council today.

The council consists of officials from the Steamboat Springs, Oak Creek, Yampa, West Routt and North Routt fire protection districts and the state and U.S. forest services. Other members include county and Steamboat Springs officials and County Emergency Services Director Chuck Vale.

The council is proposing to divide into a Multi-Agency Coordinating Policy Group, responsible for wildland firefighting tactics and strategy, and a Multi-Agency Coordinating Advisory Group, responsible for wildland firefighting policies and funding.

"I believe we are on the right road with this concept," Vale said. "It forces the policy makers to make decisions, and it makes sense to have an advisory group."

The council will review the draft at 1 p.m. in the commissioners' hearing room on the second floor of the courthouse annex, 136 Sixth St.

By signing the memorandum, fire districts are responsible to respond to wildland fires in the county, and the county agrees to reimburse the districts for the cost of fighting the fires. Since 1993, the Wildland Fire Council has been in charge of setting policies and coming up with fire-suppression tactics.

The new policy group would be comprised of a representative of the Routt County Sheriff's Office, a county commissioner, a Steamboat Springs City Council member and board members from each fire district.

The advisory group would include representatives of the state and U.S. forest services, Bureau of Land Management, Vale and fire chiefs from each fire district.

County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said the policy and advisory groups are the structure the wildland fire issue has been lacking.

At this time, the council does not have the avenues to pursue funds for resources they may need to adequately fight wildland fires. Stahoviak said the policy group would make decisions about funding and operations based on recommendations from fire experts, which comprise the advisory group.

The proposed change in the county's MOU is happening a year after the Steamboat Springs Fire Department and the Steamboat Rural Fire District chose not to sign the county's MOU.

The two agencies declined to participate last year after the county was unable to provide the resources the council recommended to fight wildland fires.

Because of the concerns raised last year and the rise in wildland fire calls, the fire council has been meeting with county and Steamboat officials since November to prepare for the wildland fire season.

The meetings have resulted in the proposed policy and advisory groups.

"We are hopeful all the fire districts will approve of the MOU as it is presented," Stahoviak said.

After today's meeting, Vale will meet separately with each fire district to discuss and sign the MOU.

Wildland fires have become an issue for the county because they have been on the rise. In 1999, the county had 44 fires. In 2000, the number jumped to more than 100. Last year, the county dealt with 93.

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