Wildfire Preparedness & Suppression
On July 1, 2012, wildfire command and control operations transferred from the Colorado State Forest Service to the Colorado Department of Public Safety, Division of Fire Prevention & Control.
Wildfire protection within Colorado cannot be accomplished by any single agency. Cooperation and coordination between all agencies is the key to effective suppression.
Between January and May of each year, all wildland fire agencies (local, state, federal) in each county review their annual operating plans. This plan outlines how wildfire agencies work together each year. Following a standard outline identified in the Colorado Interagency Cooperative Fire Protection Agreement, approximately 15 elements of cooperation are identified and processes detailed.
Utilizing a network of interagency dispatch centers, resources are moved throughout the Rocky Mountain Area in support of agency needs. Local, county and state resources participate in the total mobility concept, utilizing dispatch centers to respond to local or national incident needs.
State and national fire situations, fuel moisture and weather are monitored daily throughout the summer fire season. This information is used to anticipate fire intensity, frequency, and impact on resources, should need develop within Colorado.
How Protection & Suppression Works in Colorado
Colorado law identifies the sheriff as the fire warden for the county and the individual ultimately responsible for controlling and extinguishing prairie and forest fires on private and state lands within that county (CRS 30-10-513). As of July 1, 2012, the Colorado Department of Public Safety's (CDPS) role is to assist the sheriff and county fire departments with this responsibility. The CDPS fulfills this role by providing training, equipment, technical assistance and funding, and by facilitating interagency mutual aid agreements and annual operating plans.
County Fire Planning
The CDPS may assist county commissioners and the county sheriffs in their role to prepare, adopt and implement a county fire management plan (CRS 30-11-124) that details individual county policies on fire management for prescribed burns, fuels management or natural ignition burns on lands owned by the state or county.
Mutual Aid Agreements & Annual Operating Plans
Each year, federal land fire agencies, state forestry and counties meet to reach agreement on the sharing of firefighters and equipment if wildfires exceed a particular jurisdiction's resources. The intent of mutual aid is for all fire suppression agencies to work as a team, avoid duplication and efficiently suppress wildfires. The Annual Operating Plan defines the limits of interagency cooperation and contains a mobilization plan that identifies the location and availability of firefighters and equipment.
Emergency Fire Fund (EFF)
This fund was established in 1967 by a few counties that recognized that some wildfires may exceed the counties' resources and abilities to manage the fires. Participation in the EFF is voluntary. A 10-person committee, composed of county commissioners, sheriffs, fire chiefs and the state forester, oversees the administration of the fund. Currently, 43 Colorado counties and the Denver Water Board contribute to EFF. A county's annual EFF assessment is calculated using a formula based on private watershed acreage and annual property tax valuation. Counties with large amounts of private watershed land and a high assessed valuation pay more into the fund than rural counties with large acreages of federal lands and low assessed valuation. Emergency funding requests must originate from the county sheriff, and, as of July 1, 2012, approval by the Colorado Department of Public Safety (CDPS) is required. Once accepted, an EFF fire is managed under the direction of CDPS.
Federal and State Funding Assistance
As of July 1, 2012, CDPS is authorized by the Governor as the primary point of contact with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) when wildfires pose an imminent threat to life and property. CDPS requests, and if awarded, administers FEMA Fire Management Assistance Grants (FMAG). FMAGs provide for up to 75 percent of eligible costs in the suppression of catastrophic wildfires.
Wildfire Emergency Response Fund (WERF)
This State of Colorado fund was first designated and funded by the state legislature in 2002 (CRS 23-30-310). The fund reimburses a fire department or county for the first retardant load on state and private land initial attack fires at the request of the county sheriff, municipal fire chief, or fire protection district. In 2006, the legislature expanded authorities in the WERF to include reimbursement for two days of hand crew use with preference to state inmate crews. The goal is to reduce suppression costs by attacking fires quickly to keep them small.
Interagency Incident Management Teams
Once a wildland fire burns beyond the initial and extended attack capabilities of local forces, the local responsible agency often requests management assistance in the form of a local Incident Management Group or a Type II or Type I Incident Management Team. These teams are available across the nation. The Rocky Mountain Area currently has one Type I team, three Type II teams and one Fire Use team. Rocky Mountain Area teams are interagency teams that consist of individuals from the private sector, local fire departments, counties, state and federal agencies.