Concerns in the forest

Officers issue citations to Rainbow Family; fire a threat

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Gigi, the self-appointed Rainbow Family of Living Light gatekeeper, could do nothing Monday to stop the convoy of U.S. Forest Service law enforcement sport utility vehicles from rolling down Forest Service Road 505 to enter the Rainbow gathering's main camping area.

"They have been coming up all day since yesterday, in and out, with mounted officers too," Gigi said before the 6 p.m. patrol that immediately shut down the road into the gathering.

Routt National Forest supervising forester Kent Foster said a squad of 30 law enforcement officials was brought in from across the country to prevent resource damage and enforce rules and regulations.

"Our biggest concern is fires," Foster said. "I checked things out the other day; they have their own internal fire watch to check untended fires, but I don't know how effective that is."

Michelle Sarubbi, a Forest Service law enforcement officer brought in from California, explained the stakes at the forest service road block.

"This is dead serious. I've done way too many evacuations, and what worries me is that there's only one way in and one way out," Sarubbi said. "There's no other means for fire and rescue. If there's a heart attack or stroke, your golden hour is gone."

Sarubbi said law enforcement teams moved methodically around campsites in the morning to gauge fire pits' proximity to dead trees, whether there was water and shovels nearby and to ensure that campers were aware fires needed to be monitored continuously and completely extinguished.

"If there's no fires or problems, then it's worth every word and every second spent," Sarubbi said.

The timing of enforcement teams' fire checks coincided with a National Weather Service Hazardous Weather Outlook Red Flag Warning issued Monday for eastern Utah and western Colorado. According to the service report, the combination of high temperatures, 30- to 40-mph wind gusts and low humidity created "critical fire weather conditions."

Much of the Routt National Forest also is filled with the dry fuel of dead trees affected by the pine beetle epidemic.

"There's an area stand that's 60 to 70 percent dead just east of where they are, some folks are already camped there," Foster said.

Inside the gathering, Rainbow campers at the centrally located supply site near the main water source were not concerned. Christopher and Blackfoot, a holistic medicine man, were tending a fire they used to boil stream water for portable use into "anything with a lid."

"We've got a shovel and a rake. I was here all last night watching (the fire). The weather's not going to be bad," said Blackfoot, who has attended and treated patients at Rainbow gatherings for 29 years.

"The law enforcement officers have been kind," Christopher said. "This gathering's for everyone, even them. We all have to behave to get along."

The cordial feelings may not last. Starting with Gigi, officers moved into the gathering area Monday evening, issuing illegal-gathering citations that require a mandatory summons before a federal magistrate. The officers also applied notices to vehicles informing participants they are in violation of federal regulations.

The Rainbow Family traditionally has resisted signing the Forest Service's free special-use permit for groups of 75 members or more.

"They see the permit as a way for us to control them," Sarubbi said. "The control is to protect the resources and to help them have a better experience and a better forest when they leave."

The Forest Service estimates there are from 200 to 500 people at the gathering, with a constant flow of participants driving and hitch-hiking up to the forest roads north of Hahn's Peak Village.

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