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Initial costs of fire announced

Aaron Osowski, The Park Record

The cost estimate for fighting the Rockport fire, according to Summit County Emergency Manager Kevin Callahan, is in the $1.8 to $2 million range.

Up to 75 percent of the total costs of the fire up until the lifting of the final evacuation notice (Monday, Aug. 19, at 8 a.m.) are covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Callahan said it might take three to four months for all of the billing to come in, as the county will not receive it until the official end of the fire season in November.

Under an agreement with the state, the county has to first expend its Suppression Fund, which is $130,000. After this funding is gone and FEMA’s aid is given, any remaining costs are shared equally between the state and the county. Summit County also has $280,000 in an emergency fund that could be used to help pay the costs.

"If we needed to, we could tap all of that," Callahan said. "Our match will mostly be in-kind contributions, including all of the staff time the Red Cross is donating their time and other agencies donated theirs. I think it’s going to be significantly less than [$280,000]." Callahan added that the county’s total obligation will be around 12.5 percent of the final determined cost.

Revegetating burned areas is also an important step in the process both for fighting the spread of detrimental, combustible grasses like cheatgrass and for mitigating the effects of runoff, which can spread sediment into the nearby Rockport Reservoir.

Summit County Manager Bob Jasper said the county has obtained a $500,000 grant for revegetation in order to get natural grasses and plants in as soon as possible.

Callahan says a contract is being reviewed between the county and the Natural Resources Conservation Service which would cover 75 percent of the costs of revegetation, with the state picking up the remaining 25 percent. Aerial seeding would most likely be the method used.

"We want to accelerate the bidding process. There are a limited number of firms that do this work," Callahan said. "They want to delay that until the end of September or early October. It’s more likely to take at that point."

Marci Hansen, a Bridge Hollow resident and Board Member for the North Summit Fire District, said she has been talking with the Bureau of Land Management and Summit County Fire Warden Bryce Boyer to see how she and her neighbors can create defensible space around their homes with revegetation. Hansen wants to revegetate with grasses that are not as combustible, such as cheatgrass.

"Hopefully it will overtake the cheatgrass so we don’t have that dry, combustible grass," Hansen said. "We’re clearing out the scrub oak from around our home and dead stuff especially so there isn’t that fuel for a forest fire."

Hansen said the BLM has given her a list of beneficial seeds that are fire-safe to plant around her home. She is telling her neighbors steps they can take to create a defensible space. At the next homeowners association meeting, Hansen says she hopes members will get on board to revegetate their properties and get out all dead brush.

"It will make it easier for the rest of us and our firemen if there’s ever another fire," Hansen said. "People need to be proactive and take responsibility for their property."

Callahan said the county will also be building debris basins and erecting fences to protect Rockport Reservoir. Eight to 10 pallets of sandbags could be used in spot areas to divert water as well, he said. The hills near State Road 32, however, could present problems in those areas without significant vegetation.

"It’s steep it doesn’t have much vegetative cover. If we have a significant rain storm, we’d have debris flows," Callahan said. "It’s not likely to harm too many of the structures, but the roads would be impacted there would be a lot of debris to clean up."

In September, the county will host a preparedness fair for area residents in conjunction with the Park City Fire District. It will focus on wildland fire and what people can do to further mitigate the fire risk they have. Callahan said they will also talk about vegetation removal and looking at what people have stored on their property.

Closed burning season

In response to the Rockport fire, the county has also decided to revise the parameters of its closed burning season. The current closed burning season is June 1 to Oct. 31. However, 30 of the 112 fire calls in 2012 occurred before June 1.

The county is working with the Attorney’s Office to expand the required fire notification period forward 60 days to Apr. 1.

Under this plan, Callahan says an individual, starting June 1, would have to get a burn permit from the county fire warden. From Apr. 1 to June 1, they would need to contact dispatch to find out if the fire warden says weather conditions would allow a burn.

"You need to confirm you’re not going to run into high winds that would create a higher risk of fire," Callahan said.

Callahan did note that this option did present air quality issues. That is because burning in the late spring can be more polluting to the air. The Health Department, Callahan said, did not think this was big enough of a concern.

"Let’s try this and see how this works," Callahan said. "If there are problems, we’ll address them down the road."


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