Agricultural fires not cause for alarm

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— For Routt County's agricultural and ranching community, spring cleaning often means conducting controlled burns.

The burns play a vital role in removing agricultural refuse and replacing soil nutrients, Routt County Emergency Management Director Chuck Vale said. But the smoke and flames often lead residents and visitors to think a wildfire has sparked.

"It's a normal time of year for agricultural burning. People don't need to panic and dial 911 (to report) that there's some smoke in the valley," Vale said.

Permits are not required for agricultural burns, but Vale and Routt County Extension Service agricultural director C.J. Muck--low urge ranchers to contact Routt County emergency dispatchers at 879-1110 for a Courtesy Open Burning Notification, which provides information about the size of the area to be burned, location and time.

Burning rotting hay and dead plant matter from irrigation ditches are the most common forms of agricultural burning, Mucklow said, and many Yampa Valley ranchers will set fire to the their irrigation ditches during the spring.

Other open-burning inquiries, including recreational fires and Air Quality Permit requests, should be directed to the Department of Environmental Health, 879-0185, or to the following local fire protection district departments: North Routt, 879-6064; West Routt, 276-3796; Oak Creek, 736-8104; and Steamboat Springs Rural, 879-2060, ext. 216.

Michael Zopf, executive director of the Routt County Department of Environmental Health, said permits are required for all non-agricultural controlled burns.

"The only permit exemptions for agricultural burning are those directly related to the growing and harvesting of crops. Any construction or demolition debris related to home or road development must go to the landfill. This refuse is not exempt and needs fire department approval for a permit," Zopf said.

Steamboat residents should contact the Steamboat Springs Fire Department at 879-0700 for information and permits for fires within city limits.

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