Wednesday, September 18, 2002
Steamboat Springs A large chunk of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness is still closed for good reason.
The U.S. Forest Service wants to protect would-be visitors from what they cannot see. Although mop-up efforts have begun on the Mount Zirkel Complex, the fire is not out.
And that presents several unforeseen hazards to people who might wander into the closure area.
"It's just not safe back there," forest protection officer Jon Halverson said.
Trees charred in the 31,000-acre blaze could fall, debris on the forest floor is smoldering and the potential for flare-ups still exists.
"Things could still go up and move again," Halverson said.
Recent rain and cooler temperatures are deceiving because people assume the fire is gone and they can return to the forest, he said.
People put themselves in danger when they choose to disregard the wilderness closure and wander into such a hazardous area, he said.
Signs are posted throughout the closure boundary to alert passersby to the importance of staying out.
But those warnings have been ignored, Halverson said. Motorists have driven around signs posted in the middle of the road and exited their vehicles to take a closer look.
Halverson said he doesn't know the extent of the problem, but he is disappointed by the disregard people have shown for the wilderness closure.
The public's safety is imperative, Forest Service spokeswoman Diann Pipher said.
Halverson, who is monitoring the fire, has given warnings to several people seen walking in the closure area. People who enter the Mount Zirkel Wilderness closure area face fines up to $5,000 and six months in jail.
Pipher and Halverson cautioned would-be offenders to consider the risks before they cross closure boundaries.
Local law enforcement and forest protection officers can issue tickets and any Forest Service personnel can report an offense if they see it.
It doesn't matter if people enter the closure area in a vehicle or on foot because they face the same penalty, Halverson said.
People who wander into closed areas also get in the way of rehabilitative efforts, he said.
Forest Service officials do not know when they will lift the closure.
"We are evaluating the situation," Halverson said.
In the meantime, Forest Service officials stress the need to stay away from prohibited wilderness and forest areas.
"The public will be told when it's time to go back," Halverson said.