County may lift fire ban

Commissioners will announce decision at today's meeting

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— Routt County Commissioners are expected to lift a four-month fire ban today.

The decision comes two weeks after the state lifted its own ban. For the first time since June 10, the county will allow campfires, fireworks, outside smoking and open burning.

The U.S. Forest Service will also lift its Stage II restrictions on federal land in Routt County today, which had prohibited campfires, outside smoking and open burning.

At a press briefing Monday morning, Routt County Emergency Manager Chuck Vale said the county meets just one of seven criteria used in deciding if fire restrictions are necessary. The Palmer Drought Index still indicates severe and extreme drought conditions, but all of the other criteria including fuel moisture content, weather and availability of fire suppression resources fall below the threshold for restrictions.

In June, the county met six of the seven criteria. Only three are required to enforce restrictions.

The county has yet to receive a snowfall significant enough to ward off fires. Vale said the cooler, shorter days and higher humidity have lowered the county's risk of forest fires.

But Vale warned lifting the ban did not mean fire danger has disappeared.

"Having a little moisture doesn't mean it is over. The long-term prediction is still drought for six, maybe 10 years," he said. "We are still not out of the woods."

The restrictions the county had in place prohibited fires used to burn trash, fence or vegetation and banned campfires and grills in areas other than designated campgrounds and recreational sites.

It also did not allow cigarette smoking beyond buildings, open vehicles and designated camping area stoves. It also prohibited chainsaws that did not install a device that prevented sparking and torches with open flames.

Although the fire restrictions are lifted, Sheriff John Warner asked that those doing controlled burns call the Sheriff's Office. The policy helps the sheriff's office track fires in the county and allows dispatch to respond appropriately to fire calls.

"The last thing we want is for people to light fires indiscriminately," Warner said. "Place a call in before you do those (burns). We are not telling everyone to burn whenever and wherever you want. There is a policy we need to follow when we do take off the restrictions."

The countywide lift pertains to private and state-owned land beyond municipal boundaries, but Diann Pipher of the U.S. Forest Service said her agency likes to work in collaboration with the county by enforcing and lifting fire restrictions concurrently. She warned that even though the Stage II restrictions are lifted on federal land, visitors have to be extra careful with campfires by having water nearby and never leaving fires unattended.

County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak, who has returned from a state wildfire conference, also warned that as wildfires die down for the season, people should not forget their danger.

She pointed to the wildland urban interface area, where houses are built in forest areas and are in particular danger if fire mitigation is not taken. She mentioned policies some fire agencies follow that know ahead of time what precautions homeowners have taken and working with those that do.

"Those are the messages that need to get out," she said. "Homes are not going to be protected if (homeowners) haven't done anything to mitigate possible damage from those wildfires."

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