Basalt firefighters start special wildfire patrols | AspenTimes.com

Basalt firefighters start special wildfire patrols

BASALT – The Basalt Fire Department has started some strategic patrols with a firetruck to try to prevent wildfires and get on the scene quickly if one does break out.

A crew of two is patrolling the district from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. The focus is on the wildland-urban interface areas where development pushes up against the White River National Forest or other public lands, said Deputy Chief Jerry Peetz. The “wildland severity patrols” started Friday after the fire district’s board of directors voted to allocate funds, he said.

“It will continue until we get a change in fire potential,” Peetz said, noting the long-range forecast is for continued hot and dry conditions. Dry thunderstorms have occurred lately, raising the concern of fires.

“Experience has taught us we get lightning strikes,” Peetz said.

Often a small fire started by lightning will smolder for a day or more and then kick up when fanned by wind.

The targeted areas for the patrols include Missouri Heights, Snowmass Creek, Capitol Creek and the Fryingpan Valley up to the Ruedi Dam, Peetz

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said. The sprawling Basalt and Rural Fire Protection District covers 492 square miles. A large share of that is land managed by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management and is inaccessible.

Two crews of two firefighters will be on patrol Wednesday because of the elevated risk of fire because of fireworks, Peetz said. Firefighters and law enforcement officials want people to refrain from all use of fireworks this year – and report anyone using them.

The Basalt patrols use the department’s F350 trucks that are fitted with hoses, water tanks and other firefighting gear. The trucks are more maneuverable than regular fire engines, so they can go on dirt roads and other rugged terrain. The crew members have various levels of certification in fighting wildland fires.

Peetz noted that the Carbondale Fire Department has used the patrols in its district during recent dry summers. Carbondale’s patrol paid off in July 2007 when a lightning strike ignited a fire in the Panorama Estates area of Missouri Heights. Carbondale and Basalt firefighters rushed to the scene and snuffed the fire. The first responders in the patrol were credited with giving the firefighters an edge.

Peetz said the firefighters on the patrols will put up signs warning of the extreme fire danger, make contact with homeowners and offer advice on fire mitigation, and keep an eye out for fires. Any property owner that wants to consult with firefighters about easing the wildfire risk on their land can call the Basalt Fire Department at 970-704-0675.

An article in The Aspen Times last week wasn’t clear enough on steps that homeowners can take to ease the fire risk. They can remove limbs and brush that are rubbing against their houses and other structures, but only by using non-mechanical tools, Peetz said. Use of chainsaws should be avoided because the risk of a spark causing a fire is so great, he said. Major projects that require use of a chain saw or other mechanical tools should be delayed until the fire risk eases, according to firefighters.

In addition, grasses should be mowed, but firefighters warned against mowing in rocky fields where the risk of equipment hitting an obstacle and creating a spark is too great. Other simple steps include move stacks of firewood away from structures; clean flammable materials from gutters and under patios and decks; and rake landscape mulch away from homes.

scondon@aspentimes.com