Cost of 18 wildfires in Colorado this year reported to be about $130 million

Above: Spring Creek Fire southwest of Pueblo, Colorado. Photo uploaded to InciWeb June 29, 2018.

Reporters at a recently created newspaper in Colorado dug up a great deal of information about the cost of the large wildfires that occurred in Colorado this year. Jennifer Brown and Jason Blevins authored an article in The Colorado Sun that broke down many different categories of costs, from portable toilets to firefighting aircraft.

The data they collected came from the Colorado Division of Fire Protection and Control. A federal agency has not responded to a records request the newspaper filed months ago.

The article concentrates on two of the largest fires in Colorado this year — Spring Creek  51 miles southwest of Pueblo, and Silver Creek near Kremmling.

Below is an excerpt from the article:

The drought-ravaged summer of 2018 was an expensive one for firefighting, with costs reaching an estimated $130 million for 18 fires, according to documents received by The Colorado Sun through a public records request to the state Division of Fire Protection and Control. Of that, the state’s share is more than $40 million.

That’s six times more than Colorado spent on fighting wildfires in 2017 and two and a half times what it spent in 2016. Ten fires last year cost just more than $10 million combined.

It is a very interesting well researched article –worth your time.

The Colorado Sun published their first edition on September 10. Many of the reporters came from the Denver Post and other newspapers that have had massive staff reductions in recent years. The Post, created in 1892, was purchased in 2010 by hedge fund Alden Global Capital, run by Heath Freeman under their Digital First Media umbrella. The organization has purchased 97 newspapers.

Below is an excerpt from an article published in Bloomberg March 26:

…But what sets Freeman apart is that he seems to have a rather unique view of a newspaper’s purpose. In this view, his papers are intended not so much to inform the public or hold officialdom to account, but to supply cash for Freeman to use elsewhere. His layoffs aren’t just painful. They are savage.

For instance, according to figures compiled by the NewsGuild, the union that represents workers at Digital First Media properties, the staff of the Denver Post has fallen from 184 journalists to 99 between 2012 and 2017.  The Pottstown Mercury in Pennsylvania went from 73 journalists in 2012 to 19 in 2017. That’s right: 19. The Norristown Times-Herald, also in Pennsylvania, shrank from 45 journalists to 12. The San Jose Mercury News and the Orange County Register, both of which had been dominant papers in their regions before Alden Global bought them, have also been decimated by layoffs.

[…]

But the pattern continues. Last week, no sooner had Digital First Media closed on its purchase of the Boston Herald than it announced that it would cut the staff from 240 employees to 175.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Fire districts in Colorado hope to forestall drastic budget cuts

At least 50 fire districts support ballot measures in November 6 election to stabilize tax receipts

Horse Park Fire
The Horse Park Fire, May 27 in southwest Colorado. Screenshot from a Hotchkiss Fire District video.

In  Colorado the effects of multiple constitutional amendments have combined, resulting in unintended consequences that have repeatedly reduced tax receipts for fire districts. Automatic changes in the tax rates will continue unless voters, county by county, approve ballot measures on November 6.

Below is an excerpt from The Journal:

Under the Gallagher [Constitutional] Amendment, 45 percent of the total amount of state property tax collected must come from residential property, and 55 percent of the property tax collected must come from commercial property.

The amendment mandates that the assessment rate for commercial property, which is responsible for 55 percent of the total state property tax burden, be fixed at 29 percent. The residential rate, on the other hand, is annually adjusted to hold the 45/55 split constant.

Because of skyrocketing home values on the Front Range, the residential tax rate was dropped statewide to stay within Gallagher’s ratio requirements. In Montezuma County, the residential tax rate recently dropped from 7.9 percent to 7.2 percent and is expected to drop further to 6 percent in 2019.

As home values continue to rise, the tax rates on residences automatically decrease, resulting in shrinking budgets for fire districts.

Another Constitutional amendment, the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, mandates that the property tax rate can’t change without voter approval.

On next week’s ballot is a third amendment, Amendment 73, a very complex tax measure. If it passes, according to The Business Times, it  “will fund schools by funneling property tax revenues away from fire departments and other special districts’ budgets to give it to schools.”

What 50 fire districts in 20 counties in Colorado are hoping is that in next week’s election voters in each county will approve ballot measures that will stabilize fire protection funding. With the previous tax receipt reductions, and more expected in the next few years, many fire districts are in dire financial straits and worry that they will have to lay off firefighters and close fire stations.

From the Summit Daily: “Our budgets have been dropping for a long time,” said Jeff Berino, fire chief at Summit Fire & EMS. “Every two years we’ve been seeing less income. We’ve absorbed the hits over the years, but it’s time to draw a line in the sand.”

And it will only get worse unless voters can be convinced that this complex situation needs to be fixed and approve the ballot initiatives on Tuesday.

The video below, posted by the Rocky Mountain Fire District, explains the interaction between two Colorado constitutional amendments (Gallagher and Taxpayers Bill of Rights) and the effect on fire departments in the state.

This is a  complex situation that can’t be easily and quickly explained. Some voters might be scared into not approving the ballot measures, hearing that they have something to do with taxes. Firefighters have their work cut out for them to communicate the message that the ongoing automatic reductions in tax revenue for the fire districts need to be reversed and stabilized. If that does not happen, they may be forced into implementing drastic cuts in fire and emergency services.

All three of these Colorado constitutional amendments, crafted with insufficient thought, work together in ways that are unintended, with very severe and negative effects on fire districts.

Two unique ways to thank firefighters

This article first appeared on Fire Aviation.

Earlier this week a family wanted to thank a helicopter pilot who was helping to suppress the Black Mountain Fire in Colorado by dropping water. There was apparently no way they could make a billboard-sized sign, so they arranged their bodies, spelling out “THANKS”.

The photo was taken by Joseph Mutchler of Billings Flying Service and posted on Twitter by Air Attack pilot Ron Hauck.

Here is an enlarged version of the family’s message:

family thanks helicopter pilot wildfire

The Black Mountain fire is 14 air miles southwest of Kremmling, Colorado in the southeast corner of Routt County. We can’t find it listed on any official government lists of wildfires, but it created a small heat signature on September 25 during a 3 a.m. satellite overflight.

And here is another great way to thank firefighters!

Lessons Learned Review released for engine rollover near Meeker, Colorado

Above: the photo above is from the LLR.

A Lessons Learned Review has been released for an engine that rolled over while working on the Fawn Fire near Meeker, Colorado July 8 ,2018.

The entire document is HERE.  Below is the Executive Summary:

On July 8th at approximately 2325, on the Fawn Fire near Meeker Colorado, a cooperating fire department engine (Engine 1) rolled off the roadway as they were travelling from the fire back to Incident Command Post (ICP). Due to a high volume of fire traffic and very dry conditions, the road surface was extremely dusty and visibility was often severely reduced.

As Engine 1 was departing the fire area, they were the second to last vehicle in a convoy of 5 vehicles. Approximately a half mile after leaving the fire and headed back down County Road 29, Engine 1 encountered near zero-visibility due to dust and started to slow down. This reduction in visibility occurred in a short section of the road where the road bed narrowed due to erosional sloughing. Unable to see the upcoming road bed hazard, the engine operator continued driving straight as he was slowing the engine down. The front passenger [-side] tire travelled off the roadway, and the engine rolled off the embankment and down about 75 feet before coming to rest in the creek bottom back on its tires.

Although there was substantial damage to the cab of the engine, all the vehicle occupants were wearing their seat belts and only sustained minor injuries (bruising, chest and back pain). Due to the heavy dust, none of the other convoy vehicles knew immediately that the rollover had happened. A rapid response from other vehicles in the convoy occurred after it was discovered that Engine 1 had rolled off the road.

The three crewmembers of Engine 1 were assessed for injuries and then driven back to the ICP. At the ICP, an ambulance that had been called to respond met the Engine 1 crew and transported them to a local medical facility in Meeker. After a thorough medical assessment, it was determined that no serious injuries had occurred, and all 3 were released from the hospital at approximately 0630 on the morning of July 9th.

Thankfully there were no serious injuries.

fire engine rollover colorado
Photo from the LLR.

The report stated, “The Headache Rack saved the cab from crushing worse than it did.” A body-mounted “headache rack” is only designed to prevent cargo from entering the passenger compartment during a sudden stop and is far to weak to provide serious rollover protection.

This is the 59th article on Wildfire Today that is tagged “rollover”. These accidents are common, and wildland fire engines should be designed with real frame-mounted roll bars, not cheap-ass expanded metal grates protecting the glass in the rear window.

We wrote more about roll bars and headache racks HERE.

And, the photo below is from an article about real rollover protection on a fire engine.

Mercedes Benz G-wagon fire engine
Mercedes Benz G-wagon engine. Photo by Victoria Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.

The next two photos are from the LLR.

fire engine rollover colorado
Photo from the LLR.
fire engine rollover colorado
Photo from the LLR.

Lawsuit filed alleging steam engine train started 416 Fire

The fire burned over 54,000 acres north of Durango, Colorado in June, 2018

At least six local residents and business owners in the Durango, Colorado area have filed a lawsuit against the company that operates the steam engine-powered train that hauls tourists on a 50-mile route between that city and Silverton. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad locomotive burns coal which heats water, converting it to steam. Similar powered trains are known to start fires when burning embers are produced along with the smoke. The suit alleges that the train started a fire on June 1  north of Durango that eventually burned over 54,000 acres in very steep terrain west of Highway 550.

map 416 fire
The 416 Fire, July 4, 2018.

When the fire first started it was named the “Train xx Fire”. But instead of the “xx” there was a number, which gave the impression that a train had also started other fires in the area. After the fire quickly grew very large, the name was changed to “416 Fire”. The U.S. Forest Service investigated to determine the cause, but according to an article in the Durango Herald they have not released the results, which will likely be reviewed by Colorado State Attorney General’s office before they are revealed in late fall or early winter.

The people that filed the lawsuit claim the fire adversely affected tourism, causing a 5.6 percent drop in sales tax and a 13.2 percent drop in lodgers tax  over the same period in 2017.

MD87 air tanker drops 416 Fire
An MD87 air tanker drops on the 416 Fire June 7, 2018. Photo by Dan Bender, La Plata County Sheriff’s Office.

Below are excerpts from the Herald’s article:

Plaintiffs say the company and its owner knew, or should have known, of the drought conditions that existed at the time the fire started.

The company did work to prevent this possibility. The train has its own firefighting tactics, such as having pop cars with water tankers follow a train to extinguish small fires and a helicopter to tackle fires from the air.

But plaintiffs say the railway operator was not equipped to extinguish this blaze. It had just laid off its veteran crew of firefighters at the beginning of the year, the lawsuit states, and replaced them “with employees much less experienced in fire mitigation and firefighting techniques.”

Fire crews “were unable to put down the fire because they were insufficiently trained by the defendant and/or because the firefighting equipment provided on the pop car was wholly insufficient to appropriately respond to the fire,” attorneys wrote in the lawsuit.

The video below is an interview with Cres Fleming who was the second person on scene at the 416 Fire June 1, 2018.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Gary.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Fire activity picks up in Utah and Colorado

At least five large wildfires are growing in the two states

Above: Satellite photo at 5:37 p.m. MDT Sept. 13, 2018 showing smoke from wildfires in Utah and Colorado.

(Originally published at 7:16 p.m. MDT September 13, 2108)

The Red Flag Warning that brought strong winds and very low humidities Wednesday and Thursday contributed to the rapid growth of several wildfires in Utah and Colorado.

In Utah two fires about 18 miles south of Provo spread very rapidly Wednesday night and Thursday. The Pole Creek and Bald Mountain Fires, between Highways 54 and 89, are only about five miles apart. Two Type 1 Incident Management Teams are en route to these fires.  Todd Pechota’s team will manage the Bald Mountain Fire and Beth Lund’s team will take the Pole Creek Fire.

To see all articles on Wildfire Today about the Pole Creek and Bald Mountain Fires, including the most current, click HERE.

Map Pole Creek Bald Mountain Fires
Map of the Pole Creek and Bald Mountain Fires showing heat detected by a satellite as late as 2:36 p.m. MDT September 13, 2018.

At 2:36 p.m. MDT a satellite detected heat on the Pole fire indicating that it had spread over a relatively narrow path 14 miles long and had crossed Highway 89. This information from a satellite 200 miles overhead is preliminary and needs to be confirmed by someone closer to the ground.

The Bald Mountain Fire appeared to have spread about five miles. Both fires were pushed by strong southwest winds, causing them to grow to the northeast.

Our extremely rough very unofficial estimate of the size of the two fires in Utah, based on the 2:36 p.m. MDT satellite data on Friday — at that time the Bald Mountain Fire had burned approximately 2,000 acres and the Pole Creek Fire had grown to about 14,000 acres.

Two fires along Highway 318 in northwest Colorado 10 and 24 miles northwest of Maybell were quite active Thursday. They are named the Three Wash and Boone Gulch Fires.

The Silver Creek Fire 16 miles northwest of Kremmling, Colorado continued to spread toward Highway 40. Thursday afternoon it was about three miles west of the highway.