Campers ignite illegal fire

Visitors cited for campfire near Rabbit Ears Pass

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— Despite plainly visible warning signs, six out-of-town visitors lit an illegal campfire in the Meadows Campground on Rabbit Ears Pass Monday night.

One of the six has been summoned to appear in court on Aug. 20 and could face up to a $5,000 fine and a six-month stay in jail, forest service officials said.

The visitors, who were not from Colorado, said they had seen the signs about the fire restrictions, had driven past the smoldering Glenwood Springs fire and knew starting a campfire was illegal and dangerous, said Dan Nielsen, a law enforcement officer with the U.S. Forest Service.

But they started one anyway.

The man who was charged with setting the fire in the steel campfire ring said he just wasn't thinking, Nielsen said.

A passerby noticed the fire and reported it, the campground host came to the scene and by the time a fire crew arrived, the campfire had been extinguished.

Although the campfire did not turn into a wildfire, it comes at a time when fire danger is extremely high and it has officials wondering why people still aren't getting the message.

"It's mind boggling," said Diann Pipher, a spokeswoman for the Craig Interagency Fire Information and for the Routt National Forest. "I think a lot of people who aren't really familiar with the outdoors don't realize how extremely dry it is because it looks green still."

Pipher said there have been a few reports of illegal campfires in the area in the past few weeks.

These dry conditions have allowed fires to spark up all over the western United States. The two most significant wildfires that are close to Steamboat Springs are the Mustang and Bear fires.

The Mustang fire burning in northeastern Utah near the Flaming Gorge Reservoir is now the region's No. 1 and the nation's No. 2 firefighting priority, said Lisa Ross, public affairs official for Ashley National Forest in Utah.

It has grown to 19,000 acres since it started Sunday and is not contained, she said.

About 120 people have been working to fight the fire, with one Type I team of about 70 people coming in Tuesday, Ross said.

Dutch John and Mustang Ridge in Utah have both been evacuated. The Bureau of Land Management has also evacuated Clay Basin in Utah and Browns Park in Colorado.

Utah Highway 191 has been closed from the Greendale Junction to the Wyoming state line.

The Flaming Gorge Dam and its associated power plant are both areas of concern, Ross said.

"There's a lot of concern there," she said, "although right now the power plant and the dam are not threatened."

The fire was probably human-caused, but it is still under investigation, Ross said.

"The firefighters have done an outstanding job with very limited resources in extreme fire conditions," she said.

The Bear Fire, which started Thursday and is burning near the east entrance of Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado, is now about 60 percent contained, compared to its 10 percent containment on Monday, said Ted Pettis, a fire information officer for the Allen Chrisman Type II team at the fire.

On Tuesday, the number of acres burned stayed at a steady 4,800, and firefighters were optimistic the fire will be fully contained within the next few days, Pettis said.

"We think we're in pretty good shape," Pettis said. "It doesn't seem to be near the same threat that it was a couple of days ago."

The Bear Fire has not threatened or burned any structures, and its cause is currently under investigation. It has resulted in various road closings: County Road 16 east of the County Road 161 junction; County Road 16 north of the U.S. 40 junction; County Road 95 north of the County Road 104 junction; and County Road 14 north of the U.S. 40 junction.

The Bear Fire is the only wildfire in northwestern Colorado that is not contained.

The PiRidge Fire, the other major fire in northwestern Colorado, burned 2,400 acres last week and was contained by Sunday.

Pipher said it is key for residents and tourists to recognize the fire danger is high and that it is crucial to follow all fire restrictions.

"We just don't want to take anymore chances with anymore human-caused fires," she said.

In the Routt National Forest, no campfires, charcoal grills or open fires of any kind are allowed anywhere, including designated campgrounds.

Smoking is allowed only in an enclosed vehicle or building.

Anything with an internal combustion engine, such as motorcycles and ATVs, must have properly working spark arresting devices.

The city of Steamboat Springs also has a fire ban, prohibiting the use of all fireworks and allows smoking only in an enclosed vehicle or building and outside areas that are paved or are bare of flammable material.

People who ignore the restrictions are likely to get caught at some point, Pipher said.

"Even if law enforcement doesn't catch you building fires, the people in the community will," she said. "We all love the forests and the mountains in the area and we don't want to see them go up in smoke."

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