Official: Leave firefighting to the pros
July 5, 2005
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” A local firefighting official is urging citizens not to try to put out wildfires themselves.
Hal Coombs, assistant fire management officer for the Upper Colorado Interagency Fire Management Center, said people put themselves in danger in by responding to fires and should leave it to the experts.
“The risk to them is pretty high. We can’t say, ‘No, you won’t,’ but we do discourage it because of risk,” he said.
On Friday, citizens were the first to respond to a fire in the Mitchell Creek area at the western edge of Glenwood Springs.
Coombs said firefighters have training in areas such as identifying safety zones in case a fire acts up, and have access to information such as weather forecasts. They also have special equipment, including fire shelters and protective clothing, and have air support.
Coombs said a Rifle resident was burned just last year when he used a track hoe to try to fight a fire.
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The 1994 Storm King Fire, which claimed the lives for 14 firefighters 11 years ago this week, resulted in some second-guessing from residents who thought crews should have responded to the fire earlier. Some even said they had wished they had put it out themselves when it was small.
Coombs, who worked in the area during Storm King, noted that firefighter resources were limited at the time because of the number of fires in the region. “There’s a lot of fires we don’t even see that just go out on their own,” he said.
Coombs said he has seen a lot of fires that members of the public think they have extinguished, but heat remains and the fires still need to be checked.
“They probably thought they had it out but there’s still a lot of heat left in it and it can still come along to haunt you,” he said. Coombs worries about firefighters not being made aware of fires that can flare up again.
He said crews first became aware of Friday’s Mitchell Creek fire after it was observed from the air. Citizens were already fighting it, which means they probably had known about it for a half-hour or longer without calling it in.
“I get a little nervous about that kind of attitude,” he said. “The proper response is to call 911,” he said.
“They’re well-intentioned people; I’m not knocking them at all. They’re very conscientious citizens ” don’t get me wrong. But they’re also taking a risk.”