Grand looks toward fire planning, prevention
With the East Troublesome Fire barely six months ago, Grand County is reconsidering planning and prevention for future fires.
On Tuesday, commissioners heard from Grand Fire Chief Brad White and Schelly Olson, both representing the Grand County Wildfire Counsel, about an opportunity with the Community Planning Assistance for Wildfire program.
White started by pointing out the growing number and increasing acreage of wildfires in the county, and he emphasized the need for a proactive versus reactive approach.
“What I think fire chiefs understand and what the community understands is that the world’s changing around us,” White said. “Whether it’s the forest health or whatever the conditions are, we are definitely getting increased fire.”
CPAW is a program from Headwaters Economics, a nonprofit research group that offers free planning recommendations to help build wildfire resilient communities. The organization offers land use planning, hazard assessments, resources for building capacity, and customized research and tools.
White explained that with this changing landscape, preparation is key for future fire events.
“The more successful we are at that, in theory, the less painful recovery is and the less cost-impacted recovery is as we go through fire — because we know we’re going to go through more fire,” White said.
Grand County commissioners were in support and willing to contribute some staff time to the effort.
In a separate workshop, Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin reviewed county regulations related to fire restrictions. With Grand seeing below-average snowpack, the upcoming fire season could be another demanding one.
“We anticipate, based on trends of the past, that this year will be busy as well,” Schroetlin said.
Below are the largest fires recorded in Grand County along with the year they happened. Ones marked by asterisks were determined to be human-caused.
1. 2020 East Troublesome — 193,774 acres*
2. 2018 Silvercreek — 20,055
3. 2020 Williams Fork — 14,834*
4. 2018 Sugar Loaf — 1,280
5. 2013 Big Meadows — 643
6. 2015 Rifle Range — 640*
7. 2010 Churches Park — 475*
8. 1980 Middle Supply Creek — 398*
9. 2010 Coal Mountain — 345*
10. 2010 Rifle Range — 250*
Source: Grand County Wildfire Counsel
The sheriff met with fire and police chiefs, along with the Grand County Wildfire Counsel and land partners like the Bureau of Land Management and US Forest Service to review restriction processes. Part of the discussion focused on current penalties.
According to the current ordinance, a first-time violation of fire restrictions results in a $100 fine.
“There’s really no sting with that,” Schroetlin said. “Coming off the season we had last year, I definitely think that needs to change.”
Schroetlin explained that agencies agreed that increasing the first offense penalty to $500 would better deter violations. For repeat offenses, the recommendation was to refer the case to a judge who could fine the individual up to $1,000.
Schroetlin said that the Forest Service writes a lot of tickets, estimating them at 100 per year. The sheriff added that ticketing is based on officer discretion, and tickets aren’t necessarily issued in every situation. The sheriff’s office wrote three tickets for fire restriction violations in 2020.
Adjusting fines will mean revising the county’s ordinance on fire restrictions, which will include public notice and hearings. The commissioners instructed staff to begin that process.
Another recommendation related to exploding targets, which are currently prohibited in stage two fire restrictions. Agencies agreed that when used outside the manufacturer’s directions the material poses a large fire risk.
Schroetlin’s recommendation was to move exploding targets to stage one restrictions. A couple county residents spoke up in defense of exploding targets, the most popular of which is Tannerite, pointing out that the material had never caused a fire in Grand County.
Commissioner Rich Cimino spoke in favor of moving exploding targets to stage one restrictions, while commissioners Kris Manguso and Merrit Linke leaned toward keeping it in stage two as long as the material is used according to the manufacture’s specifications.
Adjusting what items are in the various stages of fire restrictions does not require an ordinance revision and is instead determined by a yearly resolution that will be passed in the coming months. The commissioners said they remained open to additional information on exploding targets before making their decision.
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Officials with the US Forest Service are refuting reports they’re close to pinpointing what or who caused the massive East Troublesome Fire in Grand County.