Seasonal wildland firefighters left Durango Wednesday to help with the growing Hayden Pass Fire near Coaldale.
The Upper Pine Fire Protection District also sent a firefighter to help, and other Durango firefighters are assisting at the Beaver Creek Fire near the Wyoming border.
The seasonal Brush 32 crew left town around noon on Wednesday, said Rod Allen, battalion chief for the Durango Fire Protection District. The crew of three includes engine boss Dan Dosch, operator Kenyon Sheppard and firefighter Reid Francis.
The lightning-caused Hayden Pass Fire started Friday and had grown to 12,193 acres as of Wednesday morning. Nearly 250 firefighters were working the blaze.
The brush crew is one of two staffed for the summer months by DFPD to fulfill a variety of duties in the Durango area, said Randy Black, deputy chief of Durango Fire. “The purpose of them is to bolster up our local response capabilities as well as being available for regional and national calls for service for communities that find themselves in significant need just as we were during Missionary Ridge.”
When they deploy on fires managed by the federal government, crew members are paid an hourly wage, and the district receives payment for the engine, which allows the program to subsidize its budget along with providing relief to other communities, Black said. “Typically the program ends up paying for itself, so it rarely has a lingering cost to the taxpayers of our district.”
In busy years, the crews generate enough revenue from deployments to lessen the financial need of the district and provide for replacement equipment, he said. “After the Missionary Ridge Fire we purchased two ambulances with the money we made from the trucks we put up on that fire.”
Local seasonal crews are a valuable asset across the county.
They lessen the need to have large numbers of wildland firefighting resources in every region of the United States, Black said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to have less total resources, so a net less cost to everybody in the country and then be able to move those resources where they are actually needed.”
While Brush 32 is deployed, its sister truck, Brush 31, remained in Durango to support local crews, he said.
Also, the brush crews, which often fight wildland fires far from roadways that may require extended firefighting time, play an important role in keeping structure firefighters and medical crews available to manage the increased call volume during the summer months, he said.
The hiring process for the wildland crew began in February and half of the crew began work in mid-April, he said.
Upper Pine Fire Protection District sent firefighter Bryce Claerhout to Denver Wednesday to join a 20 man hand crew being assembled for the Hayden Pass Fire, said Liza Erkert, business manager for Upper Pine. The deployment of individual firefighters to fill the ranks of hand crews is a common practice.
“We’ve been doing that for the last few years, in addition to the engines and water tenders,” Erkert said.
Upper Pine also has a water tender deployed to Salida, and it has an engine in Utah because of the extreme fire conditions in that state.
Another Durango fire crew, with a water tender, was sent to the Beaver Creek Fire, on the Colorado-Wyoming border, to relieve other firefighters, Allen said.
Luke Perkins is a student at Fort Lewis College and an intern for The Durango Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org