Firefighters gain priceless experience |

Firefighters gain priceless experience

— Local firefighters are gaining experience at the Beaver Creek Fire that could prove valuable were a large wildfire to occur in Routt County.

As of Thursday morning, the fire, which started June 19, had burned 25,491 acres in Jackson County and parts of Wyoming.

As many as 250 firefighters have recently been working at the fire.

Among them were Oak Creek firefighter Ralph Bracegirdle and Steamboat Springs firefighter Matt Workman, who returned from a seven-day assignment Wednesday. They manned an Oak Creek ambulance in case anyone was injured while working at the fire.

“Luckily, we were bored out of our minds, because it was a safe fire, and no one got hurt,” Bracegirdle said.

They worked 16-hour shifts — from 5:30 a.m. until 10 p.m. — alongside medics and firefighters who spend their summers fighting forest fires.

“It’s a well-oiled machine out there,” Bracegirdle said. “It was a great learning experience.”

Bracegirdle also reported the firefighters were being treated well, with catered meals.

“The last night we were there, we had prime rib,” Bracegirdle said.

Oak Creek firefighter Bob Reilley and Steamboat firefighter Dave Hesselton relieved Bracegirdle and Workman and are working another seven-day assignment.

They are joined by Steamboat firefighters Matt Mathisen, Leighton White and Julie Wernig, who are manning a brush truck for a 14-day deployment.

In addition to being paid for working at the fire, the fire departments are reimbursed for the use of their equipment.

Oak Creek Fire Chief Chuck Wisecup said his department is being reimbursed $480 per day for the use of its ambulance but added the major benefit is the experience the firefighters gain. In order to earn certifications, firefighters must complete certain tasks.

“Part of those can only be done on a wildfire,” Wisecup said. “Anything they learn out there can trickle down. We may need that help in our county some day.”

In 2002, 41,900 acres burned in Routt County’s Routt National Forest. The Hinman and Burn Ridge fires in North Routt started in July 2002 and joined to form the Zirkel Complex, which burned 31,000 acres. The lightning-caused fires were not fully contained until October.

The Beaver Creek Fire, on the other side of the Continental Divide, is not expect to be contained until October.

Fire activity has varied depending on the wind, temperature and humidity.

Fire officials expect activity to increase Saturday with the return of drier weather.

The fire is burning through areas of beetle-killed lodgepole pine trees. It is dangerous for firefighters to actively fight fires in such conditions, and efforts have been focused on protecting property.

“We hope to continue the success of structure protection and continue to engage the fire on our terms where we are able,” incident commander trainee Casey Cheesbrough said in a news release.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland

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