Recovery

Pueblo County, Colo., Is Prepping for the Worst-Case Fire Scenario

Colorado county approves plan for response to wildfires.

by Zach Hillstrom, The Pueblo Chieftain, Colo. / May 7, 2018
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(TNS) — Pueblo County, Colo., Commissioners recently approved the county's 2018 Annual Operating Plan, which serves as a road map for interagency responses to wildland fires.

According to Mark Mears, chief of the Sheriff's Emergency Services Bureau, Pueblo County Sheriff Kirk Taylor has a statuary duty to act as the county's fire warden and, as such, the Emergency Services Bureau is charged with developing and updating the AOP each year as a broad outline for wildland fire responses.

"This plan really lays out how we would handle a wildland fire in Pueblo County," said Mears.

"It gives us a common operating picture of how we are going to attack each wildland fire so that everybody coming to help through mutual aid has that common operating picture. This gives them that road map of how we're going to take care of business."

Local, state, tribal and federal agencies are all included in the plan, which — in its simplest terms — details which agency does what in the event of a wildland fire, as well as which agency leads operations should the fire cross jurisdictional boundaries.

The plan provides details about interagency cooperation, communication, fire preparedness, firefighting operations and cost-sharing, as well as the allocation of resources, such as aviation, personnel and heavy equipment.

"It lays out how we're going to communicate," Mears said.

"So if we have fires within the Bureau of Land Management or the Colorado State Forest Service, then they would send us resources when it's within a 1-mile radius of federal lands.

The plan also talks about the cost of response.

"If we have a fire that is going to take expending funds, it kind of lays out . . . how we would break down and negotiate those cost shares," said Mears.

A high number of wildland fires has plagued Pueblo County so far in 2018: The Double Fork, Barnett and Carson-Midway fires have burned thousands of acres and destroyed numerous homes over the past four months.

With drought conditions and warm weather expected to persist throughout the summer, Mears said it's especially important to have the plan in place.

"The fire chiefs and the sheriff's office have reviewed the plan, and it's now in place for another busy season this year," he said. zhillstrom@chieftain.com

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