An all around battle: How officials battle wildfires from the conference room to the field


A fire brigade looks at the June 2018 Buffalo Mountain Fire.
Summit Fire and EMS / Photo of Glory

When a wildfire breaks out, people look at firefighters on the ground, cut off lines, and destroy fires. They see the planes land late, and they see darker faces. What is rarely seen are questions from the office and people about the dollar and legal boundaries.

“Where is the fire going? Who is being threatened? How much property is feared? ‘What is the estimated value of this neighborhood?’ We start drawing polygons. ” Summit County Sheriff and Fire Chief Jamie Fitzgerald speaks of people fighting fire from conference rooms.

The back-end staff who handle those questions support the teams on the ground by calling for help, predicting firefighting, meeting with judges, and handling expense reports – not all firefighters on the ground may have time or attention to control. Coordinating teams away from the fire use rules and agreements to guide their actions, FitzSimons said. Signed documents stating who the fire is and who will eventually pay for it.

The fires move the command ladder up and down

At the beginning of any fire, the county’s various wildfire management agencies will work together to fight the fire, according to Summit County’s Durland Fire Operations Plan 2022. That time is known as the mutual relief time, and according to the plan it lasts until the first or second day of the fire until midnight. During that time, even though they were fighting beyond their control, individual agencies were covering their own expenses. The plan states that mutual support will respond quickly to wildfires.

The Fire First Response Agency, without any authority, shall be responsible until the appropriate emergency response agency arrives. In most cases, the operating plan states that even if the fire is out of control, a close firefighting force will be dispatched.

When more workers arrive, wildfire fires are often the joint responsibility of district, county, state and federal agencies. Fires can start in one district before covering several regions, resulting in a common response. Summit County has a lot of land holdings, which complicates the fire management process behind the scenes, but the plan makes it clear, but no agency should delay its response to delay.

After being supervised by the appropriate agency – such as Summit Fire and EMS, Red, White and Blue or Dylon Ranger District – the county firefighter will be doubled and the responsibility may be transferred to the Summit County Sheriff. If the sheriff agrees that the fire should be monitored by his office, “Bring the checkbook,” Fitzemons said, because the sheriff will represent the county and be responsible for the fire. The sheriff’s office will create an emergency management team to control the fire, according to the operating system.

Improvement: If the fire exceeds the county’s firefighting capabilities, responsibility may be transferred from county to state. Local agencies and the Sheriff’s Office are still involved, but according to the county operating plan, a large disaster management team has been formed with state participation from the Department of Fire Protection and Control.

But no matter how big the fire, events always return to the local level.

“Wild fires start and end in the area,” he said.

As the fire subsides, responsibility returns to the ladder.

FitzSimons “At some point, that fire will be extinguished or treated, and then it will go backwards.

The responsible agency could open the ticket long after the fire broke out, FitzSimons said. Once it is extinguished, any firefighting repair will be the responsibility of the local agency, the plan, as well as any necessary law enforcement action. The responsible agency must investigate the fire and any civil or criminal activity, and the Sheriff’s Office coordinates the fire investigation for the responsibility of the government, outlining the plan.

But who pays?

Paying for fire may require extensive negotiations, FitzSimons said. While there may have been a fire on federal land, the wind could have taken the fire to urban areas, and in this case, federal agencies are arguing that the county is responsible for allowing homes close to forest land, FitzSimons said. He is in charge of controlling it because the fire broke out on federal land and the district is in dispute.

The end result of the negotiation is a cost-sharing agreement according to the operating plan. There are many ways to pay: each agency can cover the cost of the fire control effort. Costs can be divided based on percentage of ownership; Each agency can negotiate partial negotiation costs. Or, the plan states that agencies can use this type of contribution to offset direct costs.

The overall cost distribution is based on pre-orders, there are FitzSimons, but some priorities are fading.

“The former will not really stop in this new wildfire world because wildfires are getting worse and worse,” said FitzSimons.

He asserted that the county had set fire to at least 500 homes and that it would not be possible for the county to burn down 500 homes.

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