Steamboat firefighters helping at Montana fire

Matt Stensland

— With forest fire firefighting resources stretched thin across the country, three Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue firefighters were called up Wednesday to help with a fire in Montana.

Firefighters Leighton White, Matt Mathisen and Nick Brookshire were due to check in at the Bear Lake Fire at 4 p.m. Thursday.

Fire Chief Mel Stewart said in addition to helping out, the firefighters will gain valuable experience at the fire. The Steamboat fire department will be reimbursed for the costs of sending the crew and brush truck.

“It gives our guys the opportunity to get some really good experience, and it pays for itself,” Stewart said.

Stewart said White was a wildland firefighter before joining the Steamboat department, and Mathisen has worked at major incidents, including Hurricane Katrina. White was also one of four Routt County firefighters who went to help with the 2013 Black Forest Fire near Colorado Springs.

Stewart said this was the first time a brush truck has gone out of state to help with a fire.

The lightning-caused Bear Lake Fire on Thursday was burning in 4,250 acres in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest about 12 miles southeast of Wisdom, Montana. It was 2 percent contained, and 184 firefighters were working the fire.

It was not immediately clear what job the Steamboat firefighters would be assigned. Priorities at the fire are protecting historic structures and developing a structure protection plan, as well as evacuation plans.

Currently, there are no large federal wildfires in Colorado, which has allowed Colorado departments to send firefighters to other states to help.

“We realized there was an increased demand for the fires in the northwest, and we knew our fire danger here was low,” Stewart said.

Routt County Emergency Management Director Bob Struble said he was not aware of any other local firefighters working out-of-state fires, but there have been many local federal employees going to help.

Stewart said his department developed its work schedules to accommodate firefighters who might get the call to help. About seven Steamboat firefighters make themselves available through state and national databases.

“We have to be ready to deploy within two hours, and we have to be willing to be gone for 16 days,” Stewart said. “If we were in high fire danger right now, we wouldn’t be sending them out.”

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland

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