Routt County’s firefighting power enhanced by agreement with Civil Air Patrol
May 9, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Routt County has a new weapon in its firefighting arsenal. The Civil Air Patrol's Colorado Wing will be swooping in to provide fire watch support starting this fire season.
The Civil Air Patrol is an auxiliary arm of the Air Force and is manned by professional volunteers who use government-owned planes for things like search and rescue, disaster relief and homeland security.
"When we have a fire, particularly a larger fire, there's always danger of wind throwing fire spots ahead of the main fire,” said Mo DeMorat, Routt County emergency manager. “The Civil Air Patrol can be used to see these hot spots before they get out of control."
He said the CAP can also provide information and guidance for firefighting crews who are dispatched to remote areas.
The county's most seasoned fire chief, Chuck Wisecup, of the Oak Creek Fire Protection District, was kept busy last year with a number of fires including two big wildfires northeast of Hayden.
Wisecup described the Civil Air Patrol as another tool in the toolbox when the state of Colorado has too many emergencies to cover.
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"The state has a plane that can fly over and send us maps and pictures, but the Civil Air Patrol will be a good backup," Wisecup said.
Chief Dal Leck of the West Routt Fire Protection District agrees.
"It's a resource we have based right out of Steamboat,” Leck said. “We can have them (local Civil Air Patrol) in the air in an hour. That would really be nicer than waiting for the state to send down a helicopter to do a recon flight for us."
Steamboat houses one of the 14 Civil Air Patrol planes located in Colorado.
"We have five pilots and five other members who are serving in crew positions like scanners and photographers," said Tim Walsh, deputy commander of the Civil Air Patrol’s Steamboat Springs Composite Squadron.
In the meantime, fire chiefs are trying to be optimistic despite a warning from the state's fire prevention and control agency.
"They're predicting an active fire season this year," said Chief Leck.
While the state warns southeast and southwest Colorado are especially vulnerable, Routt County has its own problems.
"The biggest thing here is all the beetle kill is starting to fall and become ground cover," said Leck, referring to the pestilence that invaded Colorado forests in the past decade, killing millions of pine trees.
As for now, Routt County rates "low" fire danger, and Moffat County is rated at "moderate" fire danger. But ground conditions can change from town to town, according to DeMorat. He cautions to always inform the fire department about controlled burns, so resources aren't wasted by panicked residents who may not realize a controlled burn is happening.
"If we can't reach you, we can't alert you," DeMorat said.
That’s especially true for county residents who aren't registered to receive public alerts and warnings, DeMorat said.
Last year's Deep Creek Fire northeast of Hayden was on the verge of threatening 25 homes. DeMorat said only two of the homes were registered for public alerts.
"We had to send sheriff deputies door to door, and it took them over two hours to accomplish that mission," DeMorat said.
To register for emergency alerts, visit routtcountyalerts.com.
The county also encourages people to follow the Routt County Office of Emergency Management on Facebook or Twitter for up-to-date information on wildfires.