Moffat County continues discussions over fire plan

Northwest Colorado is the second most likely place in the nation for fires as a result of lightning strikes, members of the Moffat County Natural Resource Department told commissioners at Monday's meeting.

But as the county department implements a new fire plan, questions arise over who pays for the cost to put out or let fires burn on private land.

According to the recently adopted Moffat County Wildland Fire and Fuel Management Plan, participating landowners may now opt to let naturally occurring fires burn on private land if it isn't infringing

on public land.

To add another tool to the plan, county fire officials are considering ways to help landowners who want to see naturally occurring fires burn on their land, without first burning through the county's pocketbook.

One suggestion is to offer private ranchers the opportunity to get certified to fight fires, decreasing the load off county officials needed to tend fires, said Buddy Grinstead, Moffat County sheriff and head of the county's fire control division.

That option may help stave off the costs of letting natural fires burn to landowners and the county because many landowners already have water trucks and equipment to fight fires, he said.

"We need to develop a checklist of reasons for letting a fire burn or suppressing it," Grinstead said.

Educational issues on burning private land in regards to the fire plan need to be continually revisited, said Jeff Comstock, the director of Natural Resources for Moffat County.

"The intent of the fire plan isn't to be a burden on the county," he said. "The intent is to open doors for private landowners and ranchers."

Last week, county officials hosted an all-day tour that introduced burning options for landowners. About 30 people attended the grant-funded event, which covered the areas around Douglas Mountain, Greystone and Cross Mountain, said Ann Franklin with the Natural Resources Department.

"A lot of people already know about the fire plan because they've been interviewed about it," she said.

After county officials determine the price of tending fires on private land and how landowners can contribute to the effort, each fire will be considered on a case by case basis, Franklin said.

"We definitely will be talking with landowners before a fire is allowed to burn," she said. "We won't just be doing the work and saying, 'Hey, here's the bill,'" she said.

Commissioners agreed to look into ways the county can defer the costs of potential burns on private lands.

"It's not a priority of the Moffat County taxpayer to improve pastureland for a private owner who wants to burn," said Moffat County Commissioner Les Hampton.

Comstock added that many landowners who want to be involved in the burning process may be willing to volunteer services for payment given the opportunity and education.

"The fire plan creates a solid basis for us to work with landowners and plan for the future," he said.

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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