Local agencies tally cost of Byers Canyon Rifle Range Fire
Nearly three months have passed since the Byers Canyon Rifle Range Fire was sparked by an errant rile round. The resulting blaze sent fire fighters scrambling to contain the flames before they could jump the Colorado River or expand into forestland north of Highway 40 between Hot Sulphur Springs and Parshall.
As local, state and federal agencies review their actions from late August invoices are being developed and bills are being sent out. While final figures are still not available and cost sharing discussions are ongoing between the State of Colorado, Federal Government and local fire agencies, Grand Fire provided a preliminary outline of costs and billable expenses for the conflagration.
Officials from Grand Fire are figuring the total cost of the fire at $203,556 with a total billable figure of $112,510. Neither figure is an “estimate” but neither figure is a finalized total either and is subject to change as ongoing cost sharing negotiations continue and as other bills for services are received.
Notably the full cost of aviation resources used to suppress the blaze is not yet know because, “we seldom see invoices for aviation resources until well into the winter,” stated Brad White, Assistant Chief of Operations and Training for Grand Fire. Grand Fire provided approximate costs for aviation resources but the county is still awaiting official invoices.
“I believe this to still be a conservative number and also to be relatively cheap for all that happened that week,” White stated. “Still it is less than it would have cost to rebuild one house or building had we lost any.”
There were no buildings damaged during the blaze and no injuries were reported. At the time of the Byers Rifle Range Fire in Aug. White was also the Chief of the Hot Sulphur Springs/Parshall Fire District, a position he has since resigned.
The cost breakdown for wild land fires in general is complex as a myriad of agencies from various levels of government, some overlapping in authority and some not, determine jurisdiction, figure costs and decide what will and will not be billed on the fire. All the fire districts within the county have mutual aid agreements already worked out between them which dictate that each fire district in the county can call upon the other districts for assistance at no charge for the first 24 hours of a fire, or the first burn period. After that the assisting fire districts can, but won’t necessarily, bill the lead agency for time and material.
The Byers Canyon Rifle Range Fire, which burned approximately 640 acres over four days, started on Monday morning Aug. 24 at the Byers Canyon Rifle Range west of Byers Canyon and was caused by a full metal jacket .223 rifle round legally fired at the shooting range. As the day wore on and the fire expanded in size additional out-of-county fire fighting assets were called in including a helicopter, a single engine air tanker and a 20-man hand crew from Juniper Valley near Buena Vista. Local officials were concerned about the possibility of the fire getting into the thick stands of beetle kill pine that rim Byers Canyon and possibly jumping the Colorado River, which immediately would have threatened the town of Hot Sulphur Springs.
After the additional assets were called to the scene and as the fire began spreading south of Highway 40 jurisdiction for the fire was transferred to the Grand County Sheriff’s Office. After jurisdiction was transferred to the Sheriff’s Office and with the fire expanding to both the south and northeast of the Byers Canyon Rifle Range additional aircraft were called into to assist.
A total of six fixed wing aircraft participated in the effort including two single engine air tankers, with approximately 800 gallon tanks for dropping flame retardant or, as it is often called, slurry. Along with the single engine air tankers were two larger heavy air tankers capable of holding approximately 2,500 gallons of retardant. All air drops from the single engine air tankers and the heavy air tankers were performed on Monday while a helicopter performed water drops in Byers Canyon from Monday through Thursday Aug. 27.
Two of the aircraft used during the operation were for reconnaissance and communication purposes. One, a Multi-Mission Aircraft (MMA), is used for reconnaissance and has infrared and heat sensing cameras capable of pinpointing hotspots and small fires burning in dense forest. The other aviation asset, the Air Attack 90RA plane, is used as a recon plane but functions primarily as an on-site in the sky air traffic control center, directing other planes above the blaze.
The estimated total cost to be billed for the aviation assets is $40,500. That figure is less than the $83,500 cost for all aviation assets used to fight the fire. These figures do not account for the helicopter used during the fire that accounted for an additional $9,450 of total costs. The state covered the availability charges for the helicopter which totaled $2,500 per day while local agencies covered “rotor time” while the helicopter was active.
Federal assets assisting with fire fighting efforts included the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the US Forest Service’s Laramie, White River and Sulphur Ranger Districts. State agencies assisting included the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Colorado State Patrol and the Colorado Dept. of Transportation.
Grand County government was represented in the fire fighting by the Grand County Sheriff’s Office, Grand County EMS, the Office of Emergency Management, the County Road and Bridge Dept. and Grand County Search and Rescue.
Five different local fire districts responded to the fire: Hot Sulphur Springs/Parshall Fire, Kremmling Fire, Grand Fire, Grand Lake Fire and East Grand Fire.
Bills for assistance on the fire were received from the BLM, and from the Laramie and White River Ranger Districts of the US Forest Service, totaling $15,425. The Sulphur Ranger District, which tallied a cost of $915, is not billing for their efforts.
The Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control tallied a total cost of $51,562 but billed for only $32,542. Grand County Road & Bridge who aided in the efforts by operating a road grader that help established a “dozer” line is billing $6,722 for their efforts. Brad White explained that Grand County Search and Rescue (GCSAR) volunteers, “helped by being on scene and available near some of the riskier suppression operations…Last I heard there were volunteering their time and are not billing it to the fire, although they had some fuel reimbursements, etc. that the Sheriff is taking care of.”
The remainder of the billable costs for the fire are taken up by the local fire districts. The Hot Sulphur Springs/Parhsall Fire District, where the fire originated on State owned land, had a total cost of $16,798, though are not billing for their services. The Kremmling Fire District tallied $2,862 in costs but are not sending out a bill. Grand Fire figured $10,395 in fire fighting costs but will bill $6,758 for their participation. Grand Lake Fire totaled $4,653 in costs with a bill of $2,940 sent out. East Grand Fire tallied an agency total and billable total at $4,066.
“Any fire that requires resources outside of our normal mutual aid partners gets billed for through the State,” said White. “For this fire we ordered a variety of outside resources. Each will send their bill to the State, who will then turn around and bill it to cost sharing parties.”
Each bill the State receives will be split with 82 percent being billed to the County and 18 percent billed to the BLM, based on acreage ownership in the area burned by the fire. The State adds an additional 10 percent to each bill to cover their administrative costs.
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Approaching a year after the East Troublesome Fire destroyed 366 homes, including 132 belonging to fulltime Grand County residents, there are still a few families that haven’t been able to find stable housing.