Local firefighters take on wildfire in Colorado

CAMERON PEAK, Colo. – As wildfires rage throughout the west, some of Yoder’s firefighters are lending themselves to the cause.

Yoder Fire Chief Justin Burkart and firefighters Cody Cox, Nick Williams, Luke Brigham and Robbie Edmunds have been in Cameron Peak, Colo., where more than 1,000 firefighters are working to contain what Colorado’s Greely Tribune reported is the state’s fifth-largest fire in history after burning  104,652 acres on Friday. According to the U.S. Forest Service, the fire was 17% contained as of Wednesday. 

Burkart said Yoder, whose fire department participates in the federal fire program, has had crews in Colorado since Aug. 14. 

“When large fires around the nation need help, they will make requests in different areas, so if resources are needed we get the call from Casper Fire Dispatch,” Burkart said. “We could go anywhere in the nation, it just happened to be Cameron Peak that needed help, so we put ourselves on the board.”

Burkart, a firefighter with YVFD since 1999, said “as a nation, we’ve burned a lot of acres this year,” rendering it one of the worst fire seasons he’s seen.

Goshen County Fire Marshal Bill Law said having crews like those from YVFD available helps in places with extensive wildfires like Cameron Peak, because with extra hands on deck, local departments can still keep up with day-to-day operations.

“Just because you get a big fire like that going that doesn’t mean you don’t have your day to day house fires, electrical fires, all the things that are business as usual,” Law said.

A typical work day for these crews lasts between 12 and 15 hours, beginning with a 6 a.m. briefing, according to Burkart. Then, they head out to the fire line, which could take minutes or hours, depending on the day. 

“The fire line on this one is 221 miles just to drive around,” he said.

What happens at the fire line is variable. On Sept. 17, the fire at Cameron Peak was “laid down,” meaning it is burning less actively. So, Burkart and crews assessed structures, including hundreds of houses, in Glen Haven, a town in Larimer County in case the fire eventually reaches the area. 

“If the fire did come over this way, we know our resources, how much water, how much hose we would need to try to save those structures,” Burkart said. 

Other possible tasks include supporting helicopters dousing the flames with water, helping hand crews mop up an area after the fire burns, containing flames within a dozer line, etc. 

Cox and Williams are currently working on a bulldozer crew. Cox said this crew is currently camping out in tents at Colorado State University’s Mountain Campus, but during past assignments, he’s stayed in hotels. 

Though traveling to fight these fires pays well and provides funding for Yoder’s fire district, it can be hard on firefighters’ families to have them gone for 14 days at a time, Cox said, so it takes commitment. 

“I always wanted to be a firefighter when I was a kid,” he said. “I guess now it’s just to be there to help. Whether it’s a car crash, saving a rancher’s grass, or a family’s home. The reasons why I chose to come help fight these big wildfires are to gain more experience and better myself as a firefighter.”

Burkart said residents should be cautious. Snowfall on Sept. 8 caused a freeze, heightening the risk of a blaze. 

“It could really ramp up within the next 30 days,” Burkart said. “Our fire season is not over.”

A wildfire ignited in southeast Wyoming on Sept. 17 in the Medicine Bow National Forest west of Laramie. As ofTuesday, it has burned 13,504 acres, according to the U.S. Forest Service.


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