Fire council ends service

— The Wildland Fire Council is gone.

Its replacement arrived Tuesday when Routt County Commissioners approved proposed revisions to the county's memorandum of understanding.

The MOU calls for the breakup of the council and the creation of two groups assigned different roles in handling the issue of wildland fires.

"It's bold and new, and we'll all learn together," County Emergency Services Director Chuck Vale said.

The Wildland Fire Council consists of officials from the city of Steamboat Springs and Routt County, officials from Steamboat Springs, Oak Creek, Yampa and West and North Routt fire protection districts, officials from the state and U.S. forest services and Vale.

The agreement between the county and the fire districts and the state and federal agencies maps out how each of the districts responds to wildland fires.

The first of the two groups that will replace the existing Wildland Fire Council, which began establishing policies and fire-suppression strategies in 1993, will focus on policies and ways to fund the county program.

The second group will focus on wildland fire planning and strategies.

The Wildland Fire Multi-agency Coordination Policy Group includes a Routt County Sheriff's Office representative, a county commissioner, a Steamboat Springs City Council member and board members from each fire district.

The Wildland Fire Multi-agency Coordination Advisory Group includes representatives of the state and U.S. forest services, Bureau of Land Management, Vale and fire chiefs from each fire district.

Fire districts that signed the agreement 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.

The MOU comes at a time when wildland fires have become a greater issue of concern for Routt County.

The county dealt with 44 fires in 1999. The number jumped to more than 100 in 2000 and fell slightly to 93 in 2001.

The Wildland Fire Council began meeting twice a month last year to work through disagreement, as well as wildland fire issues, County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said.

County Manager Tom Sullivan said the agreement, with its creation of policy and advisory groups, would lend some structure to the wildland fire issue.

Stahoviak said while there has been cohesiveness, it has existed primarily among fire crews.

The advisory group gives people who actually fight the fires an opportunity to offer recommendations to a policy group comprised of elected officials.

"The biggest gap I always saw was that the policy makers really never understood what was going on with wildland fire and the work that we were doing," she said.

The two groups will meet twice a year to discuss wildland fire.

The biggest challenge during the transition from one council to two groups, Stahoviak said, will be the name change.

"The hardest thing will be no longer calling it the Wildland Fire Council," she said.

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