Fires banned on public land

More restrictions will be implemented next week to try to prevent wildfires

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— Open fires are banned on all public land in Routt County and similar restrictions will be placed on private property in the county next week.

The restrictions are in a direct response to dry conditions increasing the risk of wildfire in the county.

The state fire restrictions came first, straight from Gov. Bill Owens Tuesday. He emphasized the banning of fireworks on those lands as well as open fires. That ban affects 67,761 acres of land of state parks, forests and the Land Board in Routt County.

Owens said he wanted federal land agencies, county governments and municipalities that haven't implemented fire and firework bans to assess local situations and follow suit if necessary.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management placed "Stage 1" fire restrictions on the Routt National Forest and other federally managed land.

That means no open fires outside designated camping area stoves and no cigarette smoking outside of a building or a vehicle. Camp stoves, lanterns and gas and charcoal grills are allowed.

Breaking the ban results in a fine up to $5,000 and up to six months in jail.

"The Routt National Forest is not as dry as other areas in Colorado because we had a little more snow and a little more spring moisture," Forest Service spokeswoman Diann Pipher said. "But if we don't get some more rain soon, we could be going the way of the rest of the state."

State officials believe the rest of the state is facing one of driest summers in recorded history, which would follow the smallest winter snowpack in recorded history. The drought is the most extreme in southern portions of the state.

Routt County Emergency Manager Chuck Vale was in the southern Colorado city of Alamosa Thursday attending a fire conference, and he attested to the dry conditions there.

"We are clearly the wettest area in the state. When you leave Routt County and get into Eagle (County), it starts getting brown. Then it gets browner and browner the farther south you go," he said.

Despite the Yampa Valley's recent moisture, it is still drier than normal. When Vale returns to Steamboat Springs today, he will prepare a fire restriction plan for private land in unincorporated portions of the county.

"We are going to ask commissioners to go into restrictions on Monday morning," Vale said.

The restrictions will be similar to the ones already in place on state and federal lands and include banning all fires used to burn trash, fence or vegetation and using explosives that require fuses or blasting caps. Agricultural burns will be allowed with permission from the sheriff. Breaking the ban results in a fine of up to $100 for a first offense and up to $200 for a second offense.

The restrictions also prohibit the use of fireworks in the county. Steamboat Springs which is exempt from the ban, along with all municipalities has never outlawed fireworks, and it doesn't appear it is going to this summer.

"At this point, I don't see it happening," Steamboat Springs Fire Chief Bob Struble said.

The Steamboat Springs City Council would make the final decision; however, it has not been discussed at length.

The city most likely will embark on a public education campaign to show the importance of safely using fireworks, Struble said.

Last Fourth of July, the Steamboat Springs Fire Department was called to numerous fires. At one point during the day, one more call could have resulted in a fire going unchecked until firefighters were freed up, Struble said.

A fire ban also is not likely to be placed within the city. Instead, Struble said the municipal fire code would be strictly followed, which, unlike the county, requires permits for most outdoor fires.

However, nothing has been officially decided on about the fireworks and fire ban. No matter what is decided, the city officials decided on Wednesday that the Fourth of July fireworks show will go on as planned, City Manager Paul Hughes said.

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