Local responders and volunteers keeping wildfire damage at a minimum
Jul 18, 2012 | 4814 views | 0 0 comments | 80 80 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The attention of the nation, and of thousands of firefighters, has been focused on devastating fires in Colorado and northern Utah. However, a team of hard-working local residents, many of them volunteers, has succeeded in stopping a host of local fires before they grow.

Aside from an early fire in the La Sal Mountains, which provided training for hundreds of fire fighters who then moved on to larger fires, the fire season has largely missed San Juan County.

In the past week, local crews have responded to nearly a dozen fires and have succeeded in stopping them in their tracks. Most of the fires started on federal lands. All were believed to have been caused by lightening.

The arrival of the rainy season is often a mixed bag. Lightening, wind and decreased visibility come with the storms, increasing the risk of a fire.

Along with the increased risks comes soaking rains, cooler temperatures and higher humidity, which all mitigate the fire risk.

If lightening strikes areas that are tinder dry, a raging fire can spread before crews can respond. The outcome could be devastating. More than one million acres of public land has burned in the West in recent weeks and San Juan County is at the center of the affected areas.

David Gallegos coordinates fire response for San Juan County. He works with volunteers from communities in the county, along with state and federal agencies. They all have been on high alert this summer, tasked with the daunting job of stopping small fires before they grow.

Most of the fires are reported by local residents who notice smoke or flames. The fire fighters then make their way to the scene as fast as they can. Gallegos reports that most of the fires are attacked while the flames are still contained in a single tree. A few fires have grown to an acre or two, but a quick response has been very successful to date.

Gallegos and the crews will be busy for the remainder of the summer. They know that they can’t rest for several weeks. Smoke from three fires were reported in the La Sal Mountains after the soaking rains on July 15.

“Fire restrictions are still in effect,” reminds Gallegos, who urges local residents to burn fires only in designated areas.
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