The snowmelt is just kicking into high gear, but it's not too early to start thinking about fire season, Routt County officials said.
Smoke from prescribed burns likely will be visible during the next few weeks, said Diann Ritschard, spokeswoman with Routt National Forest. The burns promote healthier vegetation, protect populated and developed areas and improve habitat for wildlife.
The Forest Service has started clearing several hundred acres of oak brush in the Big Creek Ridge area north of Mad Creek and east of Routt County Road 129. The burn is part of a multi-year project to clear dead vegetation.
Bark beetle infestations have reached epidemic levels, Ritschard said, leaving many dead trees in Routt County and throughout Colorado.
Farmers and ranchers also use controlled burns to clear dead vegetation and debris.
"It's that time of year that agricultural burning starts to happen, and that's normal," said Chuck Vale, Routt County director of emergency management.
Individuals should contact the Routt County Sheriff's Office at 870-5503 before conducting a controlled burn to alert officials of the burn.
Dead vegetation should be cleared from around homes to help prevent fires from spreading.
"Every homeowner also has a responsibility to create defensive space around their homes," Ritschard said.
Vale said it is too early to predict wildland fire potential for this season, but clearing brush is one of the best preventive measures.
"That is absolutely a must," Vale said. "If we do not get control of the excess fuel around the subdivisions, we could have catastrophic fires later this summer."