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Local firefighters join in regional wildfire training at Button Rock Preserve next week

Interagency training on wildland fires ensures unity of effort and speed of response
Button Rock 3-18 (13 of 37)
Ralph Price Reservoir at Button Rock Preserve, from Sleepy Lion Trailhead.

The skies around Longmont may be a little noisier this week. Longmont Fire Services Division will participate in an interagency wildland fire training exercise at Button Rock Preserve, conducted by the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC). 

Longmont’s firefighters will be joined by Boulder Fire-Rescue, the U.S. Forest Service, as well as Army National Guard from Colorado, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, Wyoming and New Mexico.

Longmont Fire Services Division will be providing operational leadership during the training, according to Steph Bergman, Communication Specialist from the Longmont’s Public Works & Natural Resources department. 

After the devastating wildfires of 2020, the state of Colorado passed two bills — SB21-049 and SB21-113 — to redirect funds to state fire management and wildfire preparedness. On April 8, DFPC Director Mike Morgan released the state’s Wildfire Preparedness Plan.

“Current long range forecasts indicate above average temperatures and below average precipitation from now into August,” states Morgan in the plan.

The plan addresses continued drought conditions, acknowledging increased risks for wildfires in Colorado in 2021. Three of Colorado’s largest recorded fires took place in 2020, with Cameron Peak, East Troublesome and Pine Gulch totalling 541,802 acres burned.

Preparations include joint training like the one held at Button Rock, organized by DFPC. 

"Wildfire knows no boundaries; it does not recognize jurisdictional responsibilities," Morgan said in a press release. 

“A single wildfire often crosses private, county, state, tribal and federal lands and threatens communities across all landscapes, so this type of interagency training with both our community and military partners to suppress wildland fires ensures unity of effort and speed of response." Morgan said.

The goal of the training is to allow for an efficient, cohesive response between agencies when combating wildfires, according to a press release from the City of Longmont. The training includes live bucket operations utilizing helicopters at the Ralph Price Reservoir, while coordinating with ground resources at simulated fire perimeters.

DFPC Public Information Officer Caley Pruitt addressed the nature of the training in an email. “The simulated conditions start with a helibase at Vance Brand Airport, where all National Guard helicopters will land for a helibase and fire briefing. Aircrews will be given frequencies, maps and contacts for the field exercise. An Air Attack group supervisor will launch over the exercise area to assess conditions, then order helicopters from the helibase as conditions allow.”

“Once over the exercise area at the reservoir, each National Guard helicopter will be given a ground contact, or firefighter located on the ground, who will direct them to scoop water from a dip site and then apply the water as needed for a variety of simulated fire conditions — eg. a running fire, a creeping fire, a hot spot, etc. Essentially all parts of the exercise will be identical to operations on a wildfire, with the exception of live fire.”

To ensure public safety, the western areas and immediate surroundings for Ralph Price Reservoir will be closed to the public from April 12 - 18. This includes the Professor’s Ranch, South Cove and North Shore trails, as well as the south end of Button Rock Dam and the west side of the preserve. Sleepy Lion Trail and Button Rock Dam Road will still be accessible to the public, though the training may cause increased noise and winds.

Though an increase in ground traffic is to be expected at Vance Brand Airport, it is not expected to interfere with any general aviation or commercial activities at the airport.