Forest Service cautions about fire prevention

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— People who take advantage of the area's natural resources this Memorial Day weekend are asked to do their part to ensure future enjoyment of national forests and recreation areas.

U.S. Forest Service employees encourage recreation-seekers in the Routt National Forest to take extra precautions to prevent wildfires during the next few days.

Although many counties across Colorado implemented fire restrictions early to deal with the low snowpack levels, Routt County has none in place yet for the summer.

"It's an unusually dry year across the West, but Routt County had pretty good snow levels and some spring moisture so there aren't fire restrictions yet," said Chuck Vale, director of Routt County Emergency Services.

That situation could change, however, and demands that people be vigilant about fire prevention.

"Unless we get some rain, we're probably headed for fire restrictions in June," Vale said.

Ray George, U.S. Forest Service recreation staff member, advised people who visit the forests this weekend to remember the absence of fire restrictions does not negate their responsibility to help prevent wildfires.

"We are probably the only forest in the state that doesn't have one (a fire restriction)," he said.

Fire restrictions for the Routt National Forest and Routt County are common during the summer.

George said campers should avoid starting campfires within 100 feet of blowdown areas and particularly dry areas. One day of rain is not enough to replenish dry areas, he said. Consistent moisture is needed. Recent precipitation should help to keep the fire danger low this weekend, he said. "But you just never can tell," he said.

Campers can lessen their impact on the forests by using available fire rings, rather than constructing new rings, and packing portable stoves and grills.

Large bonfires are not necessary when smaller fires will perform the same functions and lessen the chance of sparks flying into brush, he said. People who build campfires tend to treat them as a trashcan, George said. Unfortunately, much of the trash does not burn up and creates more work for Forest Service employees.

"We spend a lot of time picking up trash that really doesn't need to be left out there," he said. "It's amazing how much is left."

Kim Vogel, ranger for the Hahns Peak/Bears Ears District, asked campers to clear all vegetation and debris within 10 feet of their campfires. Before campers leave, they should inspect their campfire to make sure the fire is "dead out," she said.

Vogel suggested stirring water and dirt into the coals with a shovel or stick until the coals are cool enough to touch with the back of the hand.

Forest Service employees expected a higher volume of visitors to the Routt National Forest this weekend because of the absence of fire restrictions. But snow in other parts of the state will likely keep some people from coming, George said.

Anyone found responsible for a blaze that burns federal or state land is liable for the cost of suppression and damage to natural resources.

Forest Service employees urged recreation-seekers to be mindful of the impact of wildfires caused by humans. George stressed the importance of visitors leaving no trace behind during their time in the forests this weekend.

"If you trash it out, you leave it that way for the next person," he said. "We hope people would give a little bit of thought to caring for the woods.

"It's their woods."

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