State loses vital federal fire training money

Wednesday , February 05, 2014 - 2:37 PM

Antone Clark, Standard-Examiner Correspondent

SALT LAKE CITY — Faced with the loss of federal revenue, the state forester is asking the Legislature to consider picking up the $75,000 cost to maintain a training program for local fire departments.

Brian Cottam, director of the Utah Division of Forestry and State Lands, said unless the Legislature steps forward with funding, a state training program for fire departments will go away, at a very high cost. He said the return for the training could save millions in potential firefighting costs.

The yearly training has been funded with money from the Bureau of Land Management. Cottam estimated last year almost 500 firefighters from 80 different fire departments received training in fighting wildland fires.

The training is offered at five different sites every winter, Cottam said.

The program is just one component of a state prevention strategy. Cottam also urged lawmakers to continue spending money on fire suppression with a $4 million request to continue the state’s strategy of prepping property to prevent the spread of fire. In some cases the suppression effort includes planting special grasses, which reduce the risks of spreading fire.

Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, found irony in the fact BLM has pulled funding for a program, which may deal with wildfire prevention on federal land with the state.

“We’re taking money from general fund and most of the fires that are coming are on federal lands,” Noel said.

Two years removed from a very expensive fire year for the state, Cottam said current weather conditions raise concerns about what may be ahead this fire season.

“You can look outside and there is not a lot of snow on the ground. I’m concerned. I think anyone can look up at the mountains and see it is dry,” Cottam said.

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