Steamboat Springs Extremely dry conditions have convinced local and regional fire officials that Northwest Colorado needs a fire ban.
On Monday, the Northwest Colorado Fire Management Unit issued fire restrictions - effective at midnight tonight - for all state, county and federal lands within Routt, Moffat, Grand, Jackson and Rio Blanco counties.
Diann Ritschard, a spokeswoman for the Routt National Forest, said dry conditions, coupled with recent lightning storms, have raised the threat of widespread fires.
"We've been picking up quite a few sparks from lightning storms in Northwest Colorado," said Ritschard, who noted the restrictions might last through the summer.
Ritschard said certain criteria must be met before fire restrictions are enacted, including predicted weather, low moisture content in vegetation and the number of resources available to respond to fires.
"No open fires will be allowed other than in established campgrounds with fire rings," she said.
Smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle, operating a chainsaw, shooting off fireworks and using an acetylene welder also are restricted under the fire ban.
A fire erupted Saturday near the Slavonia trailhead in the Routt National Forest after lightning struck a tree. Ritschard said firefighters quickly extinguished the fire, but other lightning strikes may leave fires smoldering for days until they erupt into flames.
"We'll get firefighters in there and we'll drop water on those fires right away to get them out before they do become big fires," she said.
Ritschard said the Forest Service often allows fires to burn in areas where there is little chance the fire may spread, but this year, all fires will be diligently fought.
"In a year as dry as this, particularly with beetle kill, we will be suppressing all fires," she said.
Routt County Emergency Management Director Chuck Vale said he plans to ask Routt County commissioners today to enact fire restrictions for private landowners. He said the fire ban would go into effect tonight at midnight if commissioners approve the restrictions.
Vale said he also will speak with regional emergency management directors today via teleconference to discuss the proposed ban.
Becky Klenk, a hydrometeorological technician with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said thunderstorm activity, high winds and high temperatures will move into the area this week.
"In the Steamboat Springs area we are going to see very low relative humidity and high winds at 10 to 15 mph," she said. "These winds and humidity would make a fire really take off."
Klenk added a red flag warning was issued Monday for Routt County because of hot conditions and lightning. The warning means conditions are ripe for wildfire.