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Sylvan Fire grows – counties coordinated, began prepping months earlier

The Eagle Valley Wildland Team brings together agencies from across the area to train to fight wildfires like the one burning now

EAGLE COUNTY, Colo. — New wildfires are popping up all across the state, but the work to fight some of those fires started months ago – a new effort in Eagle County acknowledges that wildland firefighting is a year-round job.

For much of the year, that means fighting fires, even when flames aren't burning. 

"It’s accepting that this is something that will happen, not if but when, and then identifying values at risk," said Eric Lovgren, the Eagle County Wildfire Mitigation coordinator as he looked out over the Sylvan Fire burning nearby. "We’re trying to prevent unwanted ignitions from occurring and then allow for a better outcome when those wildfire events do impact this community."

After the worst fire season on record last year, fire departments in Eagle County came together to accelerate the formation of the Eagle Valley Wildland team – it's a coordinated effort to fight wildfires all year long, not just when they’re burning.

It starts with firefighters from Gypsum, Eagle River and Greater Eagle fire departments training together. They practice on prescribed burns and clean up dry land into slash piles which they’ll burn in winter.

It also focuses on mitigation, working with homeowners to clear their land – even when fires aren’t burning, the fire fighting continues.  

"We’re preparing the battlefield well in advance of the firefighters arriving to engage the fire. We’re giving them a chance to more effectively do their jobs," said Lovgren. "We’ve had a massive interest in preparing for wildfires now. Sometimes it really takes that close-to-home moment to get people willing to move."

Firefighters from the local agencies in the area now train together, learning in classrooms and using simulations. When a fire like the Sylvan Fire starts, they get help from agencies across the country. It's now grown to more than 1,400 acres, a day after starting on Sunday. 

Drought conditions in Colorado and increased summer temperatures have caused the fire season to start quickly here.

"A fire-adaptive community bends without breaking when an event like a large wildfire comes," said Lovgren. "We’re all working to either prepare for fires, mitigate fires or prevent them in the first place."

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