Fire officials expect busy holiday weekend

Caution urged as Routt County fire danger jumps from 'low' to 'high'

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Open campgrounds and trails

- Dry Lake on Buffalo Pass

- Dumont Lake on Rabbit Ears Pass

- Seedhouse

- Freeman Reservoir

- Bear Lake

- Cold Springs

- Horseshoe

- Vaughn Lake

- Chapman Reservoir

- Lynx Pass

- 100 Road from Red Dirt Road to Rabbit Ears Pass

- Flat Tops Trail Scenic Byway

- Buffalo Pass Road - only to second gate

- California Park Road

— Fire officials said the Smokey Bear fire danger signs across Routt County have been changed from "low" to "high" in anticipation of a busy holiday weekend. A combination of beetle-killed trees and fireworks means revelers should be especially careful during July 4 festivities.

Routt County Emergency Management Director Chuck Vale said his office responded to the first fire of the season Wednesday night when lightning struck a group of pines about one mile east of the Home Ranch near Clark.

North Routt Fire responded to the scene at 5:30 p.m. and contained the fire before dark. The area affected, about one-tenth of an acre, is a steep slope with lodgepole pines - some killed by beetles, some still alive - North Routt Fire Protection District Chief Bob Reilley said.

Expecting a busy weekend of fires, Vale said no fireworks are allowed on public land and that anyone igniting fireworks on private land should be especially wary because of the dry conditions.

"I think we're seeing the signs of dead and dying pines," he said. "There's no doubt we're incredibly dry."

Vale said area fire departments regularly respond to several fires each year during the July 4 weekend.

"It's almost a given that over the next few days we'll be busy," he said.

Sam Duerksen, assistant fire management officer for the Routt National Forest, said there have been fires in previous years when similar conditions existed.

"We've not had any significant rain for more than a month. It's hot, dry and with afternoon lightning, we have the same weather pattern as this time last year when we had several fires," he said in a news release.

Diann Ritschard, spokeswoman for the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests and Thunder Basin National Grassland, said campers also should be cautious as they light campfires because even though the ground may be moist, the beetle-killed pines are easy tinder for flying embers.

"The forest floor looks green and lush right now, but if a fire were to start and get into that beetle kill, which is everywhere, it could just roll on through the tops of the trees without being hindered by the green grass on the bottom, or even snowbanks," she said.

Ritschard suggested building fires only in pre-existing fire rings and never leaving a fire unattended, even for a moment.

"If you leave the campfire at all, even for a little while, pour water on the campfire and stir it that so everything gets wet, then pour more water on it. Stir it again and don't leave it until you can put the back of your hand down on the ashes and they're cold," she said.

She said campers and hikers also should be wary around beetle-killed pine trees, which are apt to fall over and can cause significant damage and injury.

"If you're camping, look around you to see if there are dead trees, and where those are going to fall," she said. "These dead trees weigh an average of 500 pounds, and if they fall on you, you can be seriously injured or killed."

The campgrounds open this weekend will be the same as last weekend, she said.

In the Steamboat Springs area, three campgrounds are open: Dry Lake on Buffalo Pass, Dumont Lake on Rabbit Ears Pass and a portion of Seedhouse Campground on Seedhouse Road in northern Routt County.

The Freeman Reservoir Campground northeast of Craig also is open, as is Bear Lake, Cold Springs and Horseshoe campgrounds, all in the Yampa area in the Bear River corridor.

Vaughn Lake and Chapman Reservoir campgrounds also are open, and on the Gore Pass side, Lynx Pass is open. The 100 Road is open all the way from Red Dirt Road to Rabbit Ears Pass, as is the Flat Tops Trail Scenic Byway.

The Buffalo Pass Road is open past the first gate, but motorists can't drive through to the Walden side because a few feet of snow remains on the road. The Forest Service will continue doing repairs on Buffalo Pass Road later this summer, completing work they began last summer.

The California Park Road north of Hayden is also open.

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