Fire restrictions recommended


— Routt County is one of four Northwest Colorado counties in which officials are recommending fire restrictions.

The decision came after a Thursday conference call between federal land managers, fire officials and sheriffs in Routt, Moffat, Grand and Jackson counties.

Wind, heat and a lack of moisture lead to the decision to ask for restrictions on all state, private and federal land in Northwest Colorado. County commissioners and federal land supervisors have to approve those restrictions before putting them in place.

The Routt County Board of Commissioners will be asked to approve the restrictions Monday. The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management expect to have restrictions in place later next week.

Routt County Sheriff John Warner said Routt County met five of seven indicators the county uses to determine whether fire restrictions should go into place. Another deciding factor, Warner said, were two fires started in the county Tuesday -- one by lighting and the other by a discarded cigarette. Grand County reported having several fires escape campground fire rings over the weekend.

"We are having fires now that indicate dry conditions," Warner said.

Emergency Services Director Chuck Vale said Routt County met one of the most dangerous indicators -- having a 1,000-hour fuel moisture content of 9 percent or less on land below 8,000 feet and 12 percent or less above 8,000 feet.

"If we ever get a fire started, we have all the right ingredients to burn and burn," Vale said.

With the National Weather Service predicting high temperatures, afternoon thunderstorms that could spark lightning fires and high wind that could spread fires, the risk for wildland fires is not expected to go down anytime soon, Warner said.

And because a wet spring allowed vegetation to grow higher than last year, it means there is more energy to burn when the vegetation dries out, Warner said.

Vale said that if all four counties put fire restrictions in place next week, it will be the first time the agencies have made a uniform decision on fire restrictions, something they have been working at for five years.

In a joint effort, the counties are recommending similar fire restrictions, which would prohibit building any open fire or campfire unless in fire grates on developed campsites or within fully enclosed stoves, grills or in stoves using pressurized liquid or gas.

It also prohibits smoking cigarettes outside, unless in developed recreation sites and using fireworks.

U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Diann Pipher Ritschard said that people who violate the restrictions on federal land could face fines as high as $5,000 and six months in jail. The culprits also would be responsible for any damage their fires cause.

If fire restrictions are violated within the county, the fine is $100 for the first offense, $200 for the second offense and the maximum penalty allowed under law for the third offense.

"Over the past several years, we have done a tremendous amount of education," Pipher Ritschard said. "I believe most people are very careful with campfires when restrictions are in place. Most people out in the woods and camping certainly don't want to start a fire and burn up what they love."

She recommended that people planning camping trips contact their destination county in advance to find out what restrictions are in place.

Even though fire restrictions will not be in place until after the weekend, Warner warned the fire danger is still high.

"If you are going to do anything this weekend, be careful," he said.

Fire restrictions are already in place in Rio Grande and Garfield counties, White River National Forest, Dinosaur National Park, Brown's Park and the BLM's White River Field Office land.


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