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Wildland fire safety locals recognized

Posted: Thursday, May 9th, 2013

(From left) Jim Mitchell, T.J. Hunt and Don Simpson after Mitchell and Hunt were recognized for their service with BLM Wildland Fire Safety Awards.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has recognized Sublette County emergency management coordinator Jim Mitchell and Daniel fire warden T.J. Hunt as National Wildland Fire Safety Award runners-up for their commitment to safety during the 2012 fire season and Fontenelle wildfire west of Big Piney.

“This safety award has existed for many years and this is the first time it has ever been given to a non-BLM employee. That’s a big deal and it says a lot about the tremendous job these men did,” remarked BLM Wyoming state director Don Simpson as he presented the awards.

Mitchell and Hunt were honored for their support and contributions to wildland firefighter safety and wildfire preparedness in Sublette County. The county had not experienced a large fire in over a decade; however, extreme drought conditions increased the likelihood by the summer of 2012. Mitchell and Hunt initiated a pre-season field tour and discussion among the BLM, Forest Service, local fire management personnel, and operators and managers of the LaBarge oil and gas field to identify critical needs and hazards and to develop response scenarios in the event of a wildfire.

In June 2012, lightning ignited the Fontenelle fire on Forest Service lands immediately upwind of the LaBarge oil and gas field. The fire soon encroached on the field and, within a week, entered major areas of production. Almost 1,000 wells and associated pipeline were shut down and nearby helium production was interrupted.

During this incident, Mitchell and Hunt remained on site and coordinated with the incident management teams. Mitchell worked with the Sublette County Sheriff’s Department to manage public access and, when the fire threatened homes, Hunt negotiated with neighboring counties for structure protection equipment to supplement resources left short due to other fires in the region.

Mitchell has been the Sublette County emergency management coordinator for the Wyoming Department of Homeland Security since 2011. Prior to joining Sublette County, he was a peace officer in Sweetwater County for ten years.

Hunt has been the fire warden of the Daniel Volunteer Fire Department for five years. Previously, he served as deputy warden for 10 years and has been involved with the department for a total of 26 years.

“We recognize individuals and groups that help our organization learn, grow and become more resilient. Mitchell and Hunt demonstrated leadership abilities and commitment to safety by being proactive in wildland fire preparedness, by being key cooperator to incident management teams and by ensuring firefighter public safety,” said BLM fire director Timothy Murphy. “Their support and contribution to the wildland fire community before and during the Fontenelle fire deserves special recognition.”

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