First fire, no coordinator

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A 3-acre fire broke out in Dinosaur National Monument on Wednesday.

It was Moffat County's first wildfire of the season, said Lynn Barclay, Bureau of Land Management information officer.

The fire came as Moffat County searches for someone to begin implementing the county's fire plan during the upcoming fire season.

Two fire trucks from the Rangely Fire Department and one National Park Service engine responded to the fire, which was reported at 1 p.m. The cause of the blaze has not been determined, Barclay said. Firefighters expected the fire to be extinguished by late afternoon.

Because of the wet Memorial Day weekend, the county's fire risk was only moderate, Barclay said.

"But it wouldn't take much to get back to warm, dry conditions," she said.

Once the county gets to those conditions and fire season begins in force, the fire coordinator would be on call to update private landowners participating in the fire plan on the status of wildfires. The coordinator also would discuss fire management options -- such as letting a fire burn or suppressing it -- with landowners.

Members of the Moffat County Land Use Board had hoped someone would be working on the fire plan by the first of this month, but because of legal questions, the county commissioners had to postpone a decision about how to begin implementing the county fire plan.

It could be a couple of weeks before the county hires a fire coordinator.

Last year, Natural Resources Specialist Ann Franklin kept landowners updated on wildfires, said Jeff Comstock, the county's natural resources director. The commissioners cut Franklin's job to balance the 2004 budget.

As long as the position is empty, the chances of landowners being able to let a fire burn across their land is low, Comstock said. "Fire use," or letting fires burn on private land was one of the biggest changes the fire plan created in the county.

Yet Comstock downplayed the fire use part of the plan, saying that though fire use gets all the attention, fire mitigation planning is a much bigger part of the fire coordinator's job.

But the county wants to be prepared for fires once the season begins in earnest.

"We certainly would like to get something started. If fire season starts, then people will really want to get something done," Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos said.

The commissioners offered the temporary fire coordinator position to Franklin, but she turned it down. Raftopoulos estimated it could take two to three weeks to get an employee in place.

That timeframe stands only if a suitable candidate is found. When the commissioners decided to find a temporary employee to do the job, Commissioners Les Hampton and Darryl Steele expressed skepticism at the prospects of finding a qualified temporary employee, and Steele voted against hiring a temporary employee.

If a qualified candidate can't be found, the commissioners have said they'll open the job to bidding by private contractors. Raftopoulos estimated the bidding period could last from two to four weeks, meaning a contractor might not begin work until July.

The fire coordinator will be paid through grants from the Bureau of Land Management.

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