A single-engine air tanker drops fire retardant on the Sugar Fire, a 2012 wildfire that burned 5 acres of Bureau of Land Management about 20 miles west of Craig. Moffat County Sheriff Tim Jantz this year received greater authority from the Moffat County Commission to call in aerial assistance for fighting wildfires.

Photo by Joe Moylan

A single-engine air tanker drops fire retardant on the Sugar Fire, a 2012 wildfire that burned 5 acres of Bureau of Land Management about 20 miles west of Craig. Moffat County Sheriff Tim Jantz this year received greater authority from the Moffat County Commission to call in aerial assistance for fighting wildfires.

Moffat County sheriff given more authority to spend money to fight fires

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“The former county commissioners had a concern about airdrops because they cost so much money. We learned last year during the Sand Fire that waiting on commissioner approval also plays a factor in our ability to protect life and property, which is our No. 1 priority.”

Moffat County Sheriff Tim Jantz about using airdrops to fight wildland fires.

— Moffat County Sheriff Tim Jantz has been given greater authority over how certain county funds may be spent during the upcoming wildland fire season.

Under new guidelines in the county’s annual fire operating plan, the Moffat County Commission provided Jantz with oversight of up to $100,000 for annual aerial firefighting assistance.

According to a resolution passed by the former county commission, Jantz was authorized to call in two aerial drops per season, one using Wildfire Emergency Response Fund dollars, which are reimbursed through the state, and one using county funds.

Under the old guidelines, additional airdrops required onsite approval by the Moffat County Commission.

“The former county commissioners had a concern about airdrops because they cost so much money,” Jantz said. “We learned last year during the Sand Fire that waiting on commissioner approval also plays a factor in our ability to protect life and property, which is our No. 1 priority.”

The Sand Fire ignited in June 2012 and burned an estimated 2,000 acres about 10 miles west of Craig. The fire threatened numerous homes and almost required an evacuation of residents.

A helicopter equipped with a water bucket was dispatched to the scene to assist with firefighting efforts, but for wildfires located farther out in the county, a single-engine air tanker is more often called in to conduct water drops.

Depending on cargo and airtime, it costs $500 to $800 for each drop conducted by a single-engine air tanker, Jantz said. Larger bombers, which are typically loaded with fire retardant slurry and have to be called in from farther distances, can run anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 per load.

“You can go through a lot of money in a short period of time on some of our larger fires, but I’m not going to use this (new arrangement) as an excuse,” Jantz said. “Just like the former commission had concerns about cost, I’m still going to notify our current commissioners whenever I call for an air drop because we still have a responsibility to be good stewards about how we spend county money.”

The annual fire operating plan for Moffat County is a cost-share agreement with the Bureau of Land Management, Dinosaur National Monument and the U.S. Forest Service.

The plan establishes guidelines about how the agencies work together at a scene and also permits the closest agency to a fire to respond without having to first seek permission.

“The plan has created an amicable working relationship between us and the various federal agencies we work with,” Jantz said. “That was definitely apparent during the Sand Fire because people simply responded. Everyone was out there.”

Fire crews already are gearing up for the upcoming season, including full-time members of the BLM’s local hot shots crew.

Though sequestration forced the Little Snake Field Office to trim 6.5 percent of its budget across all programs, the BLM’s Wendy Reynolds said fire suppression programs would not be affected.

What impact sequestration will have on preventative operations such as prescribed burns has not yet been determined, Reynolds said.

“We’re not sure yet if we’ll be conducting prescribed burns in the Little Snake because they require plans to be in place,” Reynolds said. “Even though we may be experiencing budget reductions, we’re not using sequestration as an excuse not to get work done. We’re using it as an opportunity to be more efficient and to prioritize the programs that are more customer-service oriented.”

Joe Moylan can be reached at 970-875-1794 or jmoylan@CraigDailyPress.com

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