BLM: Thomas Fire extinguished

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Fire officials achieved their desired goal Tuesday -- completely extinguishing a wildfire in western Moffat County -- after a week of battling the blaze that rampaged across more than 3,000 acres.

Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Lynn Barclay, who's also a fire mitigation and education specialist, said a small brigade of firefighters and support staff completed their work Tuesday, one week after the fire began. Crews were released from the site Tuesday evening.

Barclay said patrols of the area would be conducted.

"We'll still observe it and keep an eye on it," she said.

Final cost estimates for the fire still are being determined. On Tuesday morning, the Moffat County commissioners, who declared the affected fire area a "disaster," estimated the cost could be about $900,000.

It isn't clear how much of that cost estimate that county will absorb, Commissioner Darryl Steele said.

Although the fire was expensive and caused extensive damage, Steele said it could have been worse.

"I think we're coming out of it way better than what the possibility could have been," Steele said.

Lightning caused the fire, which began near Greystone, 36 miles west of Maybell. Dry, hot conditions aided in the Thomas Fire's rapid spread. At one point, officials estimated that it could grow to cover as many as 7,500 acres and cost $1.85 million to suppress.

Throughout the weeklong fire, officials emphasized that coordination and communication between the various agencies combating the wildfire was instrumental in keeping it away from Greystone homes and preventing injuries.

But, another less publicized aspect also proved key, BLM officials said.

After the 2000 fire season, federal agencies began implementing plans to work more closely with local communities and property owners on measures that could prevent fire or limit its ability to spread rapidly.

Greystone and the Browns Park area was identified as a community at risk in the county's fire plan. On average, the area sees about 200 fire starts per year, one of the highest figures in the state.

The planning led to projects in Greystone and Browns Park, two areas affected by the recent wildfire. Officials completed fuel breaks -- cutting swaths between vegetation -- and thinned out other areas of dense trees or brush, Barclay said.

"The hazardous fuel reduction work in Browns Park and the Greystone area works," Barclay said. "It made a difference. Without it, (the fire) would have just kept running.

"It helps reduce the fire's intensity so that it's on the ground where firefighters can actually fight the fire," she said. "It slows the spread. That's really the main objective, allowing the firefighters to actually the fight the fire."

Fire plans were in place when the Thomas Fire started, BLM officials said. Also, preventative measures were completed in three phases. Those phases included brush mowing and hand thinning -- prescribed burning and mitigation work -- along Ryegrass Road, which helped protect Greystone homes.

Barclay said area residents told BLM officials that the groundwork helped reassure them that their property was protected.

"People were pleased and had a high level of comfort," she said.

The BLM reported that structure protection specialists were given fire plans for the area when they arrived.

The information laid out locations of water sources and mitigation work.

The information proved instrumental in determining how to protect the homes under threat, BLM officials said.

Barclay said mitigation efforts are continual.

"It really is an ongoing process for homeowners and public land agencies," she said.

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