County mulls satellite map purchase for fire prevention

A set of Moffat County maps could have the potential to save lives.

The commissioners are considering purchasing geographic information system maps for four Moffat County communities at the highest risk for wildfire.

Commissioners Darryl Steele and Marianna Raftopoulos hope the maps demonstrate to homeowners the importance of building defensible space around the property to protect themselves from wildfire.

The maps, taken by satellites, are so detailed it is possible to identify vegetation types and what material a roof is made of, said Jeff Comstock, Natural Resources director.

On a sample map of suburban Los Angeles Comstock displayed at Tuesday's commissioner meeting, forests grew to the edge of houses. These homes especially would be at risk for fire, Comstock said.

Situations similar to the Los Angeles map exist in at-risk communities such as Wilderness Ranch north of Craig.

"Hopefully they will take care of these risks ... and use this as their priority," Raftopoulos said.

The $13,300 cost of the maps will be paid with a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant that the Sheriff's Office should receive soon. The sheriff is responsible for fighting fire in the unincorporated parts of the county.

Although Steele has long been opposed to spending county money to fund fire mitigation projects for private property, he supported the maps as an incentive to get county residents to build fire breaks around their own land.

And the maps would serve to improve emergency management in the county, too, he said.

"It tells where houses are, if a fire truck can access roads. Some of these things are very important to emergency management," Steele said.

Undersheriff Jerry Hoberg said the maps would be useful to the search and rescue and special response teams.

A few years ago, the special response team responded to a suicide in Wilderness Ranch that easily could have turned into a murder/suicide. Detailed maps of the layout of the land would have helped the team, he said.

Maps will be made of Wilderness Ranch, Bakers Peak, Greystone and Knez Divide. It remains to be seen whether the county will make maps of the 15 other communities at risk for wildfire.

The Bureau of Land Management's Little Snake field office has discussed making similar maps of its resource management area as it works to develop an updated resource management plan. But the area covers 1.8 million acres, and the office has made no decision, said Dave Blackstun of the BLM.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or by e-mail at rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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