Fire season brings heat to state

Posted

Things are getting hot in Jefferson County this fire season.

In the last four weeks, six named fires have occurred within the county’s borders.

“And I’d say we’ve lost count of the small fires that went unnamed because they were quickly extinguished,” Jeffco Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Jacki Kelley.

The Jeffco Sheriff’s Department handles organization, evacuation and security duties for all fires within unincorporated county land.

The sheriff’s department was the lead agency on the Bluebell Fire last month, which burned 10 acres in the Evergreen area, forcing the evacuation of hundreds.

“In the grand scale of fires, it was pretty small. But for the people affected, they definitely felt it was a major event,” Kelley said.

So far, Jeffco residents have been spared the level of fire devastation experienced by the Black Forest Fire victims near Colorado Springs this year, or the Lower North Fork Fire last year.

-The latter fire claimed three lives, 23 structures and charred more than 1,400 acres of Jefferson County.

Still, Sheriff Ted Mink warns that the dry, hot weather being seen along the Front Range is similar to what was seen last year. At the end of June, he announced a fire ban for all land to the west of State Highway 93 and C-470.

Kelley said the area would need days of considerable rain to defuse the level of fire danger.

Beyond the potential loss of life and property, all these fires have other effects, straining law enforcement resources and costing county taxpayers.

Only five deputies are typically on patrol in the mountain regions of the county.

“If we’ve got two of them chasing fire calls, that spreads us pretty thin,” Mink said, adding that he had authorized some overtime for patrollers to do nothing but respond quickly to reports of potential wildfires.

Then there is the cost of managing those fires that cannot be put out immediately.

“So far the Bluebell is going to cost the county, since we’re not getting state reimbursement, about $250,000,” Mink said.

A busy fire season can easily outstrip the funding budgeted into the sheriff’s department at the beginning of the year.

Mink said he hopes the county will be reimbursed for at least a portion of the $200,000 it spent to support fighting the Lime Gulch Fire.

“We don’t worry about the money at the time,” Mink said. “We want to handle the situation, and handle the dollars and cents later.”