Gardner visit focuses on wildfire resources
As officials gave a Thursday briefing on the Williams Fork Fire, one person asking many of the questions was U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner.
Gardner visited Grand County to get an in-person update on the response to the wildfire. He focused on resource availability as he spoke with responders to the fire, including members of the U.S. Forest Service, Incident Management Team and the Grand County Sheriff’s Office.
“It’s great to be in Grand County to see the incredible cooperation of the communities,” Gardner added.
The Williams Fork Fire has been burning for two weeks in southern Grand County, seven miles southwest of Fraser, and had spread to almost 12,000 acres as of Thursday. The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the challenge of fighting this and other wildfires in Colorado.
“They have done a really incredible job of fighting a fire in the midst of a global pandemic and keeping their firefighters safe,” Gardner said.
Aside from the pandemic, the Williams Fork Fire also presents a unique challenge for firefighters due to both its location and fuel sources.
“This is a very difficult to fight fire because of the terrain and the deadened, downed trees,” Forest Service spokesperson Don Jaques said after the briefing.
The dead trees in the area along with the steep terrain means that it has been hard to fight the fire on the ground. Instead, crews have been focusing on building control lines in more navigable areas and using air resources wherever possible.
Gardner was hopeful that this wildfire response would help other firefighting efforts with similar conditions in the future.
“They’ll learn lessons on this,” he said. “Also, on what we need to be doing to prevent fires going forward that are doubly difficult because of the deadened, downed trees.”
Gardner asked during the briefing how the “fire funding fix” had changed the response to the Williams Fork Fire. The funding change, which went into effect this year, is meant to improve how the federal government pays to fight wildfires.
Officials responded that it has allowed them to focus on fighting the fire rather than on budgeting.
“Now they don’t have to worry about it,” Gardner said. “They fight the fire. They were always going to fight the fire, but now they don’t have to make any decisions (based on resources). They know they have the resources.”
The fix was pushed by the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, where Gardner sits as a member.
The senator wanted to know if the team fighting the fire was in need of any additional resources. With the state providing access to helicopters from the National Guard, officials said they felt well equipped to continue firefighting operations — though additional resources are always welcome.
“Right now, we do have the resources we need to be doing containing operations and to confine,” Jaques added.
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