Lincoln County holds “all hands on deck” meeting to plan, organize response to wildfires

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County and local officials met 10 a.m. Sunday in response to three fires in Lincoln County that are threatening people and competing for resources that already are spread thin.

The purpose of the meeting, said Commissioner Mark Peck in Libby, was for local government agencies to determine “what we need to do to move forward” as the county faces “unprecedented fire behavior.”

“All three (fires) are continuing to kick our butt and are going to do so for the foreseeable future,” Peck said. “We got our hands full here. It is not business as usual.”

The three fires Peck referred to are the Caribou fire in the West Kootenai, the West Fork fire northwest of Libby, and a fire on Moose Peak that is part of the Highway 200 Complex of fires in the vicinity of Thompson Falls.

The meetings were held in two locations — the Lincoln County Courthouse in Libby and a county building in Eureka — and connected by a video-conference feed.

In addition to Peck, people attending the Libby meeting included Sheriff Roby Bowe, County Administrator Darren Coldwell, Health Department Director Kathi Hooper, Public Health Manager Jennifer McCully, Fire Chief Tom Wood, County Road Foreman Marc McCully and Vic White, called back to work after two days of retirement to assist with emergency management planning. Joining Commissioner Mike Cole in Eureka were Rep. Mike Cuffe, Brent Teske — White’s replacement as Emergency Management Planner as well as Libby’s Mayor — Eureka Mayor LeeAnn Schermerhorn, County Road Foreman Ray Price, Lincoln County Sheriff’s Sgt. Beau Pitman, County Staffer Tracy McIntyre and Brian Phillips of the Border Patrol.

In addition to covering the status of all three fires, including fire behavior, pre-evacuation notices and evacuation orders, the group agreed to establish an emergency operations center at Libby City Hall, a task assigned to White and Teske. Department heads were directed to focus on providing only essential county services to free people up to help in any way they can with emergency response.

“We need all hands on deck,” Peck said, adding that could mean asking staff to perform duties outside their normal tasks. “We need to hunker down, get people out of harm’s way and focus on structure protection.”

The group’s discussion included not only short-term needs to address public safety but also longer-term items, such as looking into available grants for covering various costs of emergency response and operations.

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