Douglas County will expand its use of aviation support for wildfires this year amid predictions of a summer season “warmer and drier” than average.
In past seasons, the county has secured exclusive contracts for aerial wildfire support for two 45-day periods of the year with a break during monsoon season. This year, however, the office of emergency management requested 153 consecutive days.
“Fire seasons are getting longer, drier. Monsoons are weaker. Drought has been pervasive and we recognize that the risk doesn’t necessarily go away,” he said. “The fires we see these days do tend to be more destructive and create greater risk.”
Douglas County will add the 60 additional days of exclusive-use aviation support for wildfires from June 1 through Oct. 31 after the contract was approved in an April 12 meeting.
During his presentation, Alexander spoke about the specific risks faced by Douglas County.
“Wildfire is the number one natural hazard in Douglas County,” he said. “More than 80% of our residents in Douglas County live within some measure of wildland urban interface risk.”
The county has seen a more than 60% increase in the 5-year average of fire occurrence since the period from 2006 to 2010, Alexander said.
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Alexander said they expect that increase to continue unless there is a drastic change in the climate or residents’ personal habits.
“Current predictions for the year, for this coming summer and fire season into next winter are predicting warmer and drier than average local conditions,” said Mike Alexander with the Office of Emergency Management. “We are currently facing a fair amount of risk within the county.”
The exclusive-use contract, which parks a 300-gallon-tank helicopter in the county to respond to wildfires, is for about $1 million. Three other contracts for call-when-needed aerial support from April 13 to Dec. 21 were approved for about $300,000 altogether.
Alexander included that the median sale price of single-family homes in Douglas County was $706,000 in February this year.
The commissioners unanimously approved the contract and spoke in support of the effort to mitigate wildfires.
“When you think about the very small investment that we make into aerial support, we are getting a remarkable return on investment,” Commissioner Abe Laydon said.
This is the largest-ever investment in wildfire aerial support in the county’s history, according to a news release from the county.
“There is no more effective way to suppress a wildfire, save lives and protect property than with the combination of aerial resources working in direct support of ground firefighters,” said Alexander, who has 22 years of experience fighting wildfires.
The county also provides resources to help residents mitigate wildfire risk on their property by removing weeds and vegetation. More information is available at douglas.co.us/wildfire-mitigation.
Residents can sign up for phone call emergency notifications by visiting douglas.co.us/codered.