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BOCC proclaims Veteran’s Appreciation Week in Moffat County

CRAIG — In the wake of Veterans Day celebrations, and with numerous local veterans in attendance, the Moffat County Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday, Nov. 13, voted unanimously to proclaim the week of Nov. 11 through 17 Veterans Appreciation Week in Moffat County.

Commissioner Ray Beck said the proclamation came about through a desire to recognize and honor the enormous sacrifices of veterans with more than just a single day.

"We wanted to take this opportunity to … not just recognize our veterans and what they've done to protect our freedoms, but to give them a bigger role in our community … by saying, 'You know what? Let's extend this through the rest of this week and through Saturday with a proclamation" Beck said.

Describing a veteran as someone who "at one point in their life, wrote a blank check payable to the United States of American for an amount up to and including his or her life," Beck said far too many U.S. citizens fail to grasp the full depth of such a sacrifice.

"Now that is honor," Beck said. "There are way too many people in this country who no longer understand that, and I think this is our way of saying, 'Thank you, guys, for all you've done for our country and our community.'"

Commissioner Don Cook, noting that his own father served in the Philippines near the end of World War II, agreed.

"I know how the vets hate to talk about what they've done," Cook said. "But, we really, truly want to thank you for everything."

"You can never be thankful enough," Commissioner Frank Moe added.

The following local veterans from VFW Post 4265 and American Legion Post 62 attended the meeting and led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance: Ken Wergin, U.S. Air Force; William White, U.S. Army; Douglas Wellman, U.S. Air Force; Ed Wilkinson, U.S. Army; Gary Lovejoy, U.S. Army; Michael Lausin, U.S. Navy; Albert Shepherd, U.S. Army; Johnny Garcia, U.S. Army; Bob Eggers, U.S. Army; Mark Wick, U.S. Navy; Don Guthrie, U.S. Army; Jack Peed, U.S. Air Force; Gilbert Meats, U.S. Navy Seabees; and Dan Olsen, U.S. Navy.

After reading the proclamation, Beck presented the veterans with U.S. flag pins on behalf of the BOCC.

"It's the soldier, not the politicians, that ensure our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," Beck said. "It's the soldier who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag."

In other county commission business Tuesday:

• The BOCC approved the appointment of five members to the Moffat County Fair Board. Three current fair board members — Karl Huntsman, Kelly Hepworth, and Megan Kozey — reapplied for another three-year term, and commissioners unanimously approved their reappointments. Commissioners also unanimously approved the appointments of Ian Duzik and Bryanne Cossey to three-year terms on the board. Duzik and Cossey will replace Toni Raftopoulis and Annette Norton, whose terms are set to expire but who did not apply for reappointment. Commissioners noted Tuesday's appointments leave three remaining open seats on the board, as three sitting members — Tiffany Schulze, Natasha Nielson, and Kacy Stagner — have resigned.

• The BOCC received a $1,000 donation from the Elkhead Wranglers 4-H Club to help with the purchase of a fan for the livestock barn at the Moffat County Fairgrounds. On behalf of the club, members Carter Green, Tate Green, and Garrett Anson presented the check to commissioners.

"We have a check for $1,000 for a fan in the livestock barn, and we'd like to give that to you guys," Carter told commissioners. "This year, we did the pumpkin patch and bought the pumpkins, and we got some profit, and we decided to donate it to that fan."

He added the fan is important "to get some air moving in there."

"I think this is awesome that you guys would do that," Beck said. "So, thank you."

Cook added his thanks, saying he would match the group's donation toward purchasing the fan, and Beck said he would also contribute.

Following the meeting, commissioners said the fan — which is manufactured by a company that is actually named "Big Ass Fans" and will cost about $12,000 — are expected to be purchased and installed by fair week 2019.

• The BOCC unanimously approved a bid for a new vehicle for the Department of Human Service, awarding the sale to Cook Chevrolet, which offered a Chevrolet Traverse for $28,280. Commissioners noted the low bid, for $28,080, was submitted by Larry H. Miller, but because there was only $200 difference between the two, and because Cook Chevrolet is a local company, the BOCC decided to go with the Cook bid.

• The BOCC unanimously approved final settlements for engineering service agreements with SGM, for the Maybell RV Park Project, and with Riverside Engineering, for riverbank stabilization work at Loudy-Simpson Park.

• The BOCC unanimously approved final payments to Stripe-A Lot, for a 2018 striping project, and to Kilgore Companies, LLC, Elam Construction, Inc., for a 2018 asphalt project.

• Commissioners heard a report from Dan Miller, Road and Bridge Department director, who updated the BOCC on several items. Most notably, Cook said that 108-percent of the department's annual overtime budget — which is typically used for snowplowing operations during winter — had already been consumed by firefighting efforts over the summer. Acknowledging the extraordinary number and intensity of wildfires this season, Beck acknowledged Road and Bridge's contributions to the suppression efforts.

"Your presence out there has definitely been noticed," he said.

Miller also noted that some county dumpsters — placed primarily for visiting hunters — are being misused, with residents sometimes disposing of refrigerators, television sets, and other prohibited articles in the dumpsters.

• The BOCC heard a college program update from Annette Burrow, adult basic education director at Colorado Northwest Community College, who spoke about the college's GED program and adult literacy classes, adding she is currently working to establish an English as a Second Language program at CNCC. She said ESL classes are important to the area, given its large Hispanic population, and added the first such class is set to begin Jan. 7.

As to the GED program, Burrow — who also teaches GED classes — reported "very good enrollment," adding that a new GED class will also begin Jan. 7. She said people often misunderstand the GED, characterizing it as a challenging but rewarding path to furthering one's education.

"People misunderstand the GED. It's actually harder to get your GED, in many circumstances, than it is to get your high school diploma," she said. "It's a pretty hard test."

Contact Jim Patterson at 970-875-1790 or jpatterson@CraigDailyPress.com.

Cool running for the 5K boys race at Sandrock Elementary school Sunday

CRAIG — It was cool running for the final 5K race for the Sandrock Elementary School boys running in Mr. G’s running club.

Their final race was held on the combined campus of Sandrock Elementary School and Craig Middle School. When the start was called at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 11, temperatures were hovering right around freezing, but that didn’t stop more than 20 boys from running.

Third-grade teacher Josiah Grubbs began Mr. G’s Running Club at the former East Elementary School as a way to teach boys valuable life lessons through running.

“I wanted to show the boys that they are capable of more than they might think,” he said. Grubbs believes grit, determination, and endurance are only a few of the life lessons the boys learn outside the classroom.

With support from Sandrock Principal Kamisha Siminoe, when Grubbs moved schools, the club moved with him. From the beginning of the school year until now, the boys have met in two groups — a group of third-graders and a second set of fourth- and fifth-graders — to run four times per week.

They started slow and built up their endurance until they were able to run 5 kilometers. The culmination of their efforts, the final race, was less a competition and more a test of individual endurance.

“The boys learn that they have to work for their dreams,” Grubbs said.

Mr. G’s club will resume in late spring, when warmer temperatures return to Craig.

Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.

Craig elementary school students thank veterans

CRAIG — Elementary schools across Craig have joined in their efforts to recognize and thank area veterans for their service.

Ceremonies began Thursday, Nov. 8, with a Veteran’s Day performance of patriotic songs by the music club at Ridgeview Elementary School.

On Monday, Nov. 12, Sunset Elementary School School students, faculty, and staff gathered for a special flag raising performed by members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265 color guard. Veterans then led the school in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

The choir sang a number of songs including a salute to each branch of the military. Principal Jill Hafey, aided by Secretary Becky Fritz, on behalf of the school, gave a thank-you gift to each of the veterans.

Also on Monday, Sandrock Elementary School students, faculty, and staff gathered with members of the American Legion Post 62. Students sang patriotic songs, learned about the names, the branch of service and date of service given by each veteran.

Fraudsters pretend to be Craig law enforcement: On the Record — Nov. 9 through 11

Craig Police Department

Friday, Nov. 9

12:17 a.m. At the west Kum & Go, officers with the Craig Police Department were called by someone who wanted to speak with officers about suspicious activity.

10:18 a.m. On the 900 block of Ledford Street, officers responded to a caller who reported they had been contacted by someone claiming to be from the IRS. It was a scam.

11:17 a.m. Near the intersection of Colorado Highway 13 and West First Street, officers responded to a crash resulting in injuries. Two vehicles were involved, a Ford Focus and a pickup truck that was acting as a pilot car for a wide load. The truck crashed through the guardrail and rolled over, and the driver had to be pulled from the vehicle. The drivers were the only occupants of the vehicles and were both transported to The Memorial Hospital for treatment of unknown injuries. One of the drivers was issued a summons. The cause of the crash is known, but the report was not complete at press time. The investigating officer was not available, and Craig Police Department, the agency in charge of investigating the incident, said it would be unable to comment further until Wednesday.

12:29 p.m. On the 1100 block of West Victory Way, officers recovered an abandoned bicycle with a Steamboat Springs license number. It was taken to the Public Safety Center for safekeeping.

12:31 p.m. At Domino’s, officers responded to a caller reporting that no one appeared to be at the business. Upon further investigation, it was discovered the employees were in the office, and everything was OK.

6:11 p.m. Near the intersection of Yampa and 15th streets, officers responded to a caller who reported seeing a man in a motorized chair in a black coat riding along the road. The caller feared the man might be hit. Officers found the man in the chair off the road and safe.

7:40 p.m. At a Craig trailer park, officers responded to a report of suspected domestic violence. A man and woman were reportedly in front of a residence, and the woman was said to be crying. The caller thought they might have been in a fight. The man and woman left the area, and officers were unable to locate them.

9:13 p.m. On the 600 block of Finley Lane, officers arrested a 28-year-old Yampa man on suspicion of driving under the influence, driving under restraint, turning movements and required signals violation, and violation of bail bond conditions.  

9:40 p.m. On the 800 block of East Seventh Street, officers responded when a caller who reported that, while he was in jail, his belongings were stolen. He later located his items outside the dwelling and recovered them.

Saturday, Nov. 10

7:47 a.m. On the 400 block of Taylor Street, officers responded to a person who reported shots had been fired from some type of gun and damaged a bedroom window. The caller was unsure what type of weapon was used and said it might have been a BB gun. The incident is under investigation.

1:42 p.m. On the 1300 block of Yampa Avenue, officers responded to a report that a PlayStation had been stolen from a home. The incident is under investigation.

4:36 p.m. On the 1500 block of Barclay Street, officers received a call from someone who reported they had received a telephone call from a person claiming to be a deputy, who threatened the person with a restraining order unless they paid a certain amount of money. The call was fraudulent.  

5:14 p.m. On the 1000 block of Barclay Street, officers responded to a caller who reported they had received a call from someone claiming to be with the Garfield County Sheriff's Office. The call was fraudulent.  

5:21 p.m. At the Public Safety Center, officers responded to a person who reported receiving a call from someone claiming to be a deputy. The call was fraudulent. Craig Police Chief Jerry DeLong said, "If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be law enforcement, call the Craig Police Department. Do not provide personal information over the phone." The phone number for the Craig Police Department is 970-826-2360.

Sunday, Nov. 11

12:38 a.m. On the 500 block of Tucker Street, officers responded to a report of a burglary. The caller said someone had broken into the caller's house. Items were there that shouldn't have been, and it looked as though someone had kicked in the door. The incident is under investigation.

2:12 a.m. In Craig, officers investigated a report of domestic violence. When officers contacted the parties, they learned it was verbal only, and the two parties separated.

9:57 a.m. In Craig, officers attempted to serve a warrant.  

2:09 p.m. On 600 block of Ranney Street, officers responded to a caller who reported a fawn had died in their yard.

4:09 p.m. On the 900 block of West First Street, officers notified a driver he had a flat tire.

4:15 p.m. In Craig, officers attempted to serve a warrant.

9:40 p.m. In Craig, officers received a Safe2Tell report, one of two such reports received during the weekend. Both are under investigation.

Rocky Mountain Health Foundation awards $105K to Northwest Colorado organizations

CRAIG — Multiple health organizations in Moffat, Routt, Rio Blanco and Jackson counties should see benefits after receiving recent grant funding of more than $100,000.

Memorial Regional Health Foundation was awarded a $10,000 grant Thursday, Nov. 8, which will provide additional equipment for behavioral health care telehealth services with MRH.

The grant was among many awarded by Rocky Mountain Health Foundation to support health- and wellness-related causes that directly impact education, prevention, and access to health, community engagement, intervention, and treatment.

"We are proud to partner with organizations focusing on improving the health of our Northwest Colorado residents," said Michaelle Smith, Rocky Mountain Health Foundation executive director. "Supporting health-related programs for some of our most vulnerable populations ensures better health, better care, and better communities."

Eight nonprofit organizations serving Jackson, Moffat, Rio Blanco, and Routt counties received a total of $105,000 from Rocky Mountain Health Foundation during the first three grant cycles of 2018.

"I am thrilled to see these funds impact our local community," said Scott Rotermund, a member of the RMHF board of directors and Steamboat Springs resident. "We are funding the future of community health and developing the next generation of community health leaders. What a gift it is to work with others and make our community better."

A tablet, Pan Tilt Zoom camera, speaker, cart, and integrated wired and wireless networking will now be purchased for use at The Memorial Hospital.

“MRH plans to purchase the telehealth system to implement telehealth services with Regroup Therapy, Inc. Regroup provides customized behavioral health solution via telemedicine. It provides high-quality clinicians who deliver telepsychiatry services via a secure, HIPAA compliant virtual care platform,” said MRH Foundation Director Eva Peroulis. 

In addition to the grant received by MRH Foundation, a $15,000 grant was given to Northwest Colorado Health to support Community Connectors in Moffat County.

Other inaugural awards include the following:

• $15,000 to the Colorado Northwestern Community College Foundation to replace essential dental hygiene chairs for community oral health in Rio Blanco County.

• $25,000 to Integrated Community to support a medical interpretation and resource referral education program in Routt County.

• $10,000 to LiftUp of Routt County to hire a part-time caseworker.

• $5,000 to the Routt County Council on Aging to fund "A Balancing Act" pilot program.

• $15,000 to Yampa Valley Autism Program for ABA behavior therapy for children with intensive behavior needs in Routt County.

• $10,000 to Jackson County Council on Aging for general operations support.

Rocky Mountain Health Foundation was established in 2017 to improve the health of Western Slope Coloradans by being a catalyst and collaborator for innovative health care approaches and promoting the health and well-being of Western Slope communities.

It is anticipated that $1 million will be distributed in 2018 through quarterly grant awards.

Grants are awarded to address access to health care, preventive care and services, behavioral health services, case management, population health (including integrating social service programs and health systems), and community-based projects.

Prospective grant applicants with questions may contact Kim Lewis, grant manager, at 970-697-1038 or kim@rmhealth.org. For more information, visit rmhealth.org.

Search called off for missing Front Range man believed to be in Steamboat Lake area

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Authorities have called off a search in the Steamboat Lake area for a 66-year-old man from the Front Range.

“With the resources that we have and with the conditions that are up there, we have searched all probable areas,” said Kristia Check-Hill, the Routt County Search and Rescue volunteer who served as incident commander. “Until we have further information, we will not be going back into the field.”

The man was last heard from on Saturday, Nov. 4, Check-Hill said.

Family members contacted local law enforcement Saturday, Nov. 10, because they believed the man could be on some family property near Steamboat Lake.

Routt County Sheriff's Office deputies located the man’s vehicle on the property Saturday.

At 1:15 p.m. Saturday, a team of five Search and Rescue volunteers set out looking for the man in areas near the vehicle. They returned to town at 5:40 p.m. after poor conditions in the field made the search dangerous, Check-Hill said.

“It’s hard to search in the conditions that we were up against — 10 inches of snow as it is and low visibility — but you put darkness on top of that, and you can't see what's even underneath your feet, so it does no good to be searching,” she said.

The safety of Search and Rescue volunteers is a priority, Check-Hill added.

At 8:15 a.m. Sunday, eight volunteers set out to comb additional areas mentioned by the family and other areas where they believed the man could be. Search and Rescue returned Sunday evening as conditions again worsened.

The family will continue to look for the man, Check-Hill said, though Search and Rescue warned them to be wary of the poor weather conditions. The family was instructed to report any clues to the man’s location to law enforcement.

To reach Eleanor Hasenbeck, call 970-871-4210, email ehasenbeck@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @elHasenbeck.

Veterans honored at ‘Thanksgiving’ dinner in Craig on Veterans Day

CRAIG — Thanksgiving Day dinner arrived early in Craig as The Lighthouse of Craig on Sunday honored veterans, family, and friends with a special dinner.

“We have so much to be thankful for. … The good outweighs the bad,” said Pastor Tony Bohrer, as he asked the room to join him in thanking veterans for their service.

Army Veteran Patrick Winn, center, stands during a song of thanks. Also pictured are, left, Cory and Kelton Joyce and, right, Ashely Joyce.

Veteran Patrick Winn, who served in the U.S. Arny from 2009 until 2012, said he felt very welcome and was looking forward to eating some “great food.” He added that, while they may not always have a chance to express their appreciation, veterans appreciate the community for holding events and activities to honor all those who have served.

Members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Craig Post 4265 presented a color guard before the festivities.

Veteran and color guard member Gerald Martinez said that, for himself, as for many veterans, the transition to civilian life was difficult, but it was made easier by the support he received from other veterans and the community at large.

Gerald Martinez said that he is grateful for the support shown him by other veterans and the community during an early Thanksgiving dinner, hosted Sunday by the Lighthouse of Craig.

Life is full of ups and downs and challenges, but that’s a good thing, said Bohrer, who used an analogy of someone hooked up to a heart monitor to explain: “If you have a heartbeat, it’ll go up and down.”

He then challenged the audience to “look around and find things you’re grateful for … the good and the bad,” each day. “If you struggle to find something to be grateful for his (God’s) mercy is every lasting.”

Referencing Thessalonians 5:15-18, Bohrer closed his remarks by saying: “In everything, give thanks” and asked those gathered to “thank our veterans,” before leading the blessing of the meal.

Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.


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Steamboat soldier who died on WWI battlefield remembered through his letters

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — When Army soldier Guy Utter wrote home to his family in Steamboat Springs during World War I, he told them about what he was doing, complained about his brothers not writing and wondered how his father was getting by on the family ranch without him.

“I was glad to hear from you that you are all well and prospering,” Utter wrote in a letter to his mother Louise Utter in December 1917. “I read what you said about buying the two ranches. I wish I was in on it, but maybe when I get out of the Army, though, I will not want to come back to Colorado. Although, I have not seen anything that looks as good to me as Colorado.”

He also asked how many sheep his father was caring for and if his father needed his help?

“Doesn’t he need my help to take care of them, or not?" Utter wrote. "If he does, then he might want to get me out. But I don’t think there is any danger of that, although, there was a man who got out yesterday. His wife got him a discharge and got him sent home. It makes me sore.”

But like the nearly 1,000 young men from Routt County who served our country in World War I, Utter answered the call to duty and was remembered in the letter as a brave and dedicated soldier.

He served for a little more than a year before being fatally shot at the  Battle of Verdun in France in 1918.  He was treated at a field hospital, but the injuries proved too much, and he died Oct. 25, 1918.

Utter’s niece Nadine Arroyo said her father often talked about his older brother.

“My dad always took a lot of pride in him," Arroyo said. "He was very proud of Guy for doing what he did, even though it was a great loss.”

When her father passed away, Arroyo ended up with dozens of letters — many of them that came after her uncle's death were unopened. The letters were written during his time stationed in Junction City, Kansas, San Diego, California, and from the battlefields of France. The letters give rare insight into the man who was called into service more than 100 years ago.

“He did not want to be there,” said Arroyo, who still lives on the family ranch just off of Routt County Road 43. “I learned from reading the letters he wrote that he didn’t want to be away so far, and he struggled with that. He was really worried because there was a lot of work on the ranch that needed to be done.”

Utter was buried in Souilly, France near where the battle of Verdun was fought. The army chaplain wrote the family after the war ended and passed along where Utter was buried, assuring them that he had been buried with full military honor and was in a clearly marked grave that was well kept.

He also relayed the huge sacrifice that Guy had made to stop German aggression and that his efforts helped bring an end to the war.

Utter was part of the first military service hosted by the newly formed American Legion Post No. 44 that took place in Steamboat Springs on Memorial Day 1921. However, there is some question about when Utter's body was returned to his home town. Arroyo was told by her family, and she feels strongly,  that her uncle was brought home in the fall of 1919.

But no matter the date, Utter's loss greatly impacted the community where he lived.

In the days before Utter's body was returned home, the headline in the Steamboat Pilot read, “Victims of War To Rest at Home.”

“The remains of two Routt County boys who gave up their lives on the battlefields of France are soon to arrive, sent home by their government to be laid in their final resting places close to home,” the story read. “…the body of Guy L. Utter, son of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel H. Utter of Cow Creek, has probably reached the United States by this time, and it is expected in Steamboat Springs within the next few days.”

Veterans attended the ceremony. Businesses closed down, and crowds of people lined up to walk behind the horse-drawn carriage that carried Utter's body.

Utter’s letters revealed the mundane, day-to-day life of serving in the Army, like riding on the train from Denver to the base in Kansas where he first served, the pain in his derrière after he was vaccinated or the fact that women were a rare sight where he was stationed.

He also wrote about his desire to get on with life after the Army, and he often inquired about how his father was doing on the family ranch and what his nine brothers and sisters were up to in his absence.

Arroyo also has letters written about Utter after his death.

“Your son was a fine solider, and he was admired by both officers and men,” Lieutenant E.L. Keenan wrote to Utter’s mother after his death. “I regret very much his loss. The information that I have given you is slight, and far from satisfactory. You can no doubt verify the report by calling the War Department and can also learn the number of the base hospital and where he was buried.”

His words reinforced the fact that the young man from Steamboat was not coming home.

Utter was one of 22 soldiers who died in World War I, and this year's Veterans Day marks the 100th anniversary of the war to end all wars.

Others included John Harvey Bird, Yampa; Willard Leighton Brown, Yampa; Charles Farmer Baer, Steamboat Springs; Lloyd M. Dobson, Pagoda; Raymond R. Gretsinger, Yampa; Wesley E. Gifford, Steamboat Springs; Dr. Robert Gilmore, Steamboat Springs; Ben J. Hofstetter, Hayden; Leo J. Hill, Steamboat Springs; George Klumker, Topanas; George Leo Lawson, McGregor; William Henry Long, Dunkley; Clayton Lewis, Oak Creek; Ralph Maitland Mabee, Hayden; Marcy M. Meaden, Deep Creek; James E. Noyce, Steamboat Springs; William Channing Reed, Yampa; Chester Bryan Reise, Hayden; Edward August Schrupp, McCoy; Zetto Dell Stoddard, Bear River; and Raymond C. Whitmer, Clark.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.

Summer of fire: 2018 wildfire season breaks records in Northwest Colorado

Like much of the West, Northwest Colorado saw one its most epic and most expensive wildfire seasons to date in 2018. The region is accustomed to dealing with lots of fires, but this year's extreme heat and drought resulted in more volatile fires that consumed vastly larger numbers of acres than in years past.

"It was the busiest year we've had in the last 10 years, by far," said Colt Mortenson, fire management officer for the Bureau of Land Management's northwest region. "Usually, you get a fire, you get a rest, and then another comes up. It pulses. But this year, it didn't pulse. It began about the 20th of June and lasted straight through until October."

A total of 229 fires charred more than 108,000 acres across Moffat, Rio Blanco, Routt, Jackson, and Grand counties, according to Mortenson, including some acreage burned across the border into neighboring Wyoming and Utah. That is nearly twice the acres that burned last year and more than any fire season in the past 20 years. In Moffat County, alone, more than 23,000 acres burned, most of them in the 19,955-acre Divide Fire north of Craig.

The fires strapped both local and national resources, destroyed grazing lands and sage grouse habitat, and cost local, state, and national agencies lots of money.

"Without question, this will be the most expensive wildland fire season Moffat County has experienced," said Sheriff KC Hume.

Hume estimates that fires like the 4,100-acre Bender Mountain Fire, which burned from Utah into Colorado in September, and the 8,610-acre Boone Draw Fire cost several millions of dollars each.

Some fires are more expensive than others though, noted Mortenson.

"When you have fires burning in forest, like the Ryan Fire and Silver Creek Fire, (which) burned for up to 100 days … those are really, really expensive fires," he said. "I'd say we easily spent over $30 million with the Ryan Fire and Silver Creek Fire," which burned 28,585 acres and 20,120 acres, respectively, in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest.

Firefighting costs are complex and split across multiple levels of government depending on whether a fire burned on private, state, or federal land. The Moffat County Sheriff's Office is responsible for fighting fire on private and state land and shares that load with Craig Fire/Rescue, which is responsible for a 180-square-mile district.

Moffat County Road & Bridge provided nearly 2,500 man-hours of firefighting support on 13 fires this summer, of which about 840 hours were overtime.

"We're at 108-percent of our overtime for the year," said Ken Moncrief, motor grader supervisor for Road & Bridge. "Typically, our overtime would go for snowplowing … but the fire season is pretty much the culprit for eating up our overtime budgets. It hit us a little harder this year than it has in the past."

The county often sends motor graders and dozers to help dig firelines and provides water tenders, when needed. Some of those hours may be reimbursed by state or federal agencies, but a significant portion will remain the county's responsibility.

The Craig-Moffat County Airport also played a key role in firefighting efforts this summer with the addition of two new helipads for firefighting helicopters, as well as functioning as a base for single engine air tankers, or SEAT.

"Out of the Craig SEAT base, we flew over 400,000 gallons of water, thermal gel, and retardant, which is a record amount at least for the last 20 years," Mortenson said.

The reason behind so many record-breaking numbers in this year's fire season is a weather year that also broke records. Most of Moffat County experienced the hottest year on record for the 2018 water year, according to a report from the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University, as did most of Northwest Colorado and the Western Slope. Conditions were also extremely dry, with a slice of western Moffat County claiming its driest year on record.

"Now, a lot of people are talking about how our fire season has gone from 100 days to 150 days. It's getting warmer and seems to be getting drier," Mortenson said. "The number of fires we've had in the last 20 years has increased, and the severity of the fires has increased."

Lightning is usually prolific across Moffat County in summer, with as many as 8,000 lightning strikes in a single night in years past, Mortenson said. While lightning strikes were fewer than normal this year, they started even more fires, because they were met with extremely dry vegetation on the ground, he added.

"Usually, we spot a fire or get a report and have time to get an engine out there, but within 20 minutes, it was off and going," he said. "This year, they just moved on us."

The majority of fires in 2018 were lightning-caused, but nearly a third were human-caused, according to statistics from the Craig Interagency Dispatch Center.

Two homes were destroyed in the Divide Fire, and it left its mark upon residents and ranchers in other ways, as well. Miles upon miles of agricultural fencing burned, as did grazing land. Cattle rancher Wes McStay was one of several ranchers who felt the sting; about 1,800 of his own acres burned in the Divide Fire, as well as 500 acres of permitted BLM grazing lands and at least eight miles of fencing.

"It's $10,000 to $12,000 a mile to replace it. It hurts," McStay said, noting that it was a tough summer all-around for him and his neighbors due to drought. McStay has also had to resort to buying expensive feed and hay to make up for the losses. "This is the worst I've ever seen it, the hottest and driest I've ever seen it. Everybody struggled, not just us."

McStay also lamented wildfire's impact on sage grouse. The Divide Fire consumed some of Moffat County's prime sage grouse habitat, including a field on McStay's property that was home to the state's largest sage grouse lek, or mating ground.

"I've been working on this sage grouse thing for the last 20 years, and much of what I've done just went up in smoke. It's disappointing," McStay said.

A total of 38,100 acres of sage grouse habitat burned in Northwest Colorado this year, most of it priority habitat, accounting for more than a third of the acreage that burned in the region.

"The challenge with sage grouse habitat is that invasive annual grasses can replace the sagebrush," said BLM spokesperson David Boyd in an email. "Also in areas where habitat is limited, there may not be many areas for birds displaced from a large fire to go."

There were no major closures to hunters in the area due to fire this year, said Bill DeVergie, area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks & Wildlife, based in Meeker. He did express some concern, however, for how big game populations will fare this winter.

"A couple of the big fires were further west on the winter range, so there will probably be less forage available," DeVergie said. "It depends on what kind of winter and how much snow we get, but it could make it difficult for them to find food."

Nonetheless, the ecological costs of fire are often eventually outweighed by the benefits, when new growth in the landscape emerges in the years to come. Meanwhile, the exact dollar costs of the 2018 fire season won't be known until next spring, when the state completes a complex set of calculations and sends out bills to the different agencies responsible, including the Moffat County Sheriff's Office.

"We had more wildland fire than we've ever had, and we spent more money than we ever have," Hume said of 2018. But, "we have an extremely robust wildland fire suppression group. … I honestly believe that we do wildland fire better than many areas because of the relationships that we have here."

Contact Lauren Blair at laurensblair@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter @LaurenBNews.

Routt, Garfield, Moffat County runners make strides in Girls on the Run 5K

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A pack of runners layered in jackets, leggings and tutus lined up at Steamboat Springs Middle School on Saturday to take part in the Girls on the Run 5K.

Girls on the Run is a nationwide 501(c)(3) nonprofit that helps inspire girls in third through eighth grade to develop life skills and establish a lifetime appreciation for fitness. The program consists of a 10-week training program that culminates with a 5K race.

Girls On The Run gives the girls better awareness of themselves, their emotions, and it increases their confidence to make good choices both in their own lives and when dealing with others,” Alissa Merage said, one of the Steamboat Springs Girls on the Run coaches. “The girls develop life skills that can be transferred from the Girls On the Run lessons to real-life scenarios, such as remaining calm when a sibling frustrates them, dealing with bullies at school or supporting your friends in an unpopular situation.”

While the program is all over Western Colorado, there are five locations to run the 5K: Montrose, Fruita, Durango, Frisco and Steamboat Springs.

Steamboat Springs started its Girls on the Run program eight years ago, adding the 5K race six years ago.

“We didn’t have a race originally in Steamboat,” Western Colorado 5K director Megan Lancaster said over the phone on Wednesday, Nov. 7. “Now, there will be 16 teams from Routt, Moffat and Garfield county that go to that race, and we are expecting 500 participants: 350 girls, 80 coaches, the rest are community runners.”

In the past, Steamboat Springs also hosted Frisco runners, but the program grew enough for the town to host its own race. Steamboat Springs’ central location and growth has enabled it to be an ideal host. The program has 42 coaches with about 15 or more girls to a coach.

Exercise and running is incorporated into each of the 20 lessons as we train for the 5K, but the focus is on being healthy, having fun and supporting each other,” Merage said. “With this focus, the girls are encouraged to see exercise as a fun and social lifelong habit.”

The 5K is open to anyone, so girls ran with their families and friends to show how much they have accomplished through the program. Others stood through the 25-degree weather holding signs with the girls’ names on them or the words “girl power.”

The first runner to cross the finish was Abigail DuFon, 12, finishing with a time of 23 minutes and 13 seconds. But runners continued to finish over the next 20 minutes because it wasn’t about the time — but having the confidence to go to the distance, even if it meant walking.

“Everybody can do it. Doesn’t matter if you walk or you run, everybody is special,” DuFon said. “I have a lot of running buddies, so it’s fun.”

While DuFon aspires to be a competitive runner, she likes the inclusiveness of the program and how it taught her that it’s ok to be yourself. She turned to watch the second runner finish, clapping, then waiting for others. Runners piled in, sometimes hand-in-hand, others sprinting towards the finish. Every participant received a medal.

Claire Booth, a Steamboat Springs Girls on the Run coach, said that the energy at the 5K was uplifting despite the low temperatures. She was happy to see the community running alongside the girls. Booth grew up running in both high school and college and moved to Steamboat Springs from Golden this year. She pushed her 3-year-old daughter in a stroller for the 5K.

It was also cool to see all the girls cheer on the other girls from other schools,” Booth said. “It’s an interesting age because they form bonds and cliques. Last week, we had a practice 5K, and the curriculum they give the coaches has that built in. At least, they weren’t going into this blind. They seemed to do well. It’s helpful for me to know what girls go through this day and age.”

The program costs $55, including two free t-shirts and entry into the 5K, but if families are unable to pay for the cost, they can call the office to waive the fee.

For some, the most rewarding part is watching the girls they’ve gotten to know through coaching complete the race, embracing them as they cross the finish.

“Some of these girls could hardly run once around the soccer fields when we started back in August,” Merage said.  “What an amazing confidence builder for them to complete the 5K and a great lesson that they can accomplish anything they set their mind to in life.”

To reach Leah Vann, call 970-871-4253, email lvann@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @LVann_Sports