The La Plata County Sheriff this week joined two dozen private and public officials tasked by state legislators to revamp how Colorado promotes, funds and structures how it keeps people safe from fire.
Sheriff Sean Smith applied for a position on the Colorado Fire Commission with the “primary emphasis of how do we address funding fire (management) appropriately in Colorado,” he said in an interview Thursday. Legislation establishing the commission requires it report to legislators each year in August. The commission is expected to dissolve by Sept. 1, 2024.
County Commissioner Julie Westendorff, who helped write a letter of support for Smith’s appointment to the commission, said the sheriff’s experience fighting wildfires in La Plata County made him a good fit for the state board.
Smith is one of four sheriffs appointed to the state commission. He’ll represent the Western Slope, he said. State officials with the Colorado Fire Commission did not immediately return a call for comment.
Westendorff said Smith’s experience working the 416 Fire in 2018; coordinating with local, state, federal and tribal officials; and managing the challenges of what fire officials call the wildland-urban interface, are indicative of his ability to work on a state level.
Firefighting and fire management can be expensive, Smith said. It costs about $35,000 a day to contract a dual-rotor helicopter designated for fire suppression. One drop of fire retardant from an airplane can cost upward of $100,000, he said. The cost of the 416 Fire, which burned an estimated 54,000 acres of mostly San Juan National Forest lands within the Hermosa Creek watershed, is estimated at about $40 million.
The state Senate introduced a bill in the 2019 legislative session establishing the Colorado Fire Commission.
Legislators created the Colorado Fire Commission “to enhance public safety in Colorado through an integrated statewide process focused on the fire service’s capacity to conduct fire management and use, preparedness, prevention and response activities to safeguard lives, property and natural resources, and increase the resiliency of local and regional communities,” according to a summary of the legislation.
The 24-member commission also includes voting representatives for firefighters, county and municipal governments and emergency managers and dispatchers. A number of nonvoting members have been appointed to represent water providers, insurance agencies and federal agencies. Members serve as volunteers, according to statue.
There are “a lot of components” that go into fire management, Smith said. It could include anything from building codes to environmental management to available resources to initial response, he said.
The commission has scheduled three meetings across the state, including one July 7 in Durango. “We’re hoping to have some deliverables by that meeting,” Smith said.