County at fire crossroads

Proposed federal cuts in wildfire fighting funds could cost Northwest Colorado its Hotshot crew.

Competition for the remaining funding will increase during the next few years, Bureau of Land Management staff said at a meeting Monday.

Moffat County has about $180,000 in grant funding for developing community fire plans.

The commissioners have been debating the best use for that money.

Using it to identify fuel loads here would increase the region's chances of obtaining fire-fighting funding, BLM staff said.

"This is the county's opportunity to direct federal agencies where they'd like to see fuel reduction projects," said Lynn Barclay, BLM Little Snake Field Office fire information officer.

The county has used its grant dollars to write fire plans for four communities -- Greystone, Wilderness Ranch, Bakers Peak and Knez Divide. The commissioners will fund plans for other Moffat County communities that request plans. But if they don't ask for plans, they won't get them.

Nor will the county provide incentive funds for communities to implement fire protection projects. Before the new commissioner board took office, the commissioners had offered $7,000 as matching funds for a grant to build a fire break at Greystone. That offer is no longer on the table.

"We think that hangs the county's neck out a long ways liability-wise if we provide an incentive for one community and not another," Commissioner Darryl Steele said.

But the county will help communities get grants if the communities provide the matching funds, commissioners said.

The commissioners plan to spend the remaining $180,000 in grants to purchase satellite images of Moffat County communities. The detailed images can identify where fuel loads exist, and BLM staff agreed that the region could use them as leverage when applying for grants.

The BLM won't know whether the fire-fighting funds will be cut until Congress approves the federal budget.

The county also will seek funds that would enable the Moffat County sheriff to let fires burn on private land when conditions are right and if the property owners wants it.

Fire use is a major component of the fire plan, but in the past couple of years the sheriff, who is responsible for managing fire on private land outside Craig Rural Fire Protection District, has not been able to let fires burn, in part because it hasn't had the funding to do so.

If the local Hotshot crew were cut, Little Snake Field Office Director John Husband said, the area still would have initial resp-onse fire fighting teams.

Hotshot crews usually fight fires that last for a longer time.

If such a fire occurs here, other Hotshot crews could be called in to fight it, Husband said.

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