Routt County fire officials remind residents about burn permit process

Officials say beetle-killed trees may result in more open burns

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— The beetle-killed pines trees across much of Routt County could create a new group of property owners looking to clear their land by burning the lumber. And the prospect of having so many first-timers lighting piles of wood on fire has prompted Routt County fire officials to remind residents about the necessary permits and the best weather conditions for conducting open burns.

Obtaining an open burn permit is a two-tier process, fire officials explained during a roundtable discussion with the Routt County Board of Com­missioners on Tuesday.

The first step is to call the Routt County De­­part­­ment of Envi­­ron­mental Health, which determines whether existing wind conditions are suitable for keeping the air moving and preventing the open burns from causing smoke issues for neighbors and others.

“Smoke is what’s regulated by the state and delegated also at the county level for health reasons,” said John Twitchell, district forester for the Colorado State Forest Service. “If you burn at a bad time when it’s a very stable atmosphere — the air’s not moving much — you get inversions and smoke in the valley.”

Twitchell said it’s a common problem in the Yampa Valley because smoke tends to stay settled on the valley floor.

Despite the potential smoke issues, Twitchell and others say burning is a good way for property owners to get rid of dead vegetation.

“There are alternatives to burning slash … but burning is an important tool for managing land,” he said.

Routt County Environmental Health Director Mike Zopf agreed. He said his office fully supports burning as one method to use.

At the Routt County Envi­ronmental Health office, employees will advise callers whether they can obtain a free air quality open burning permit. For larger burns, with more than 50 piles as large as 10 feet on each side, callers must go to the state for a prescribed fire permit. The fee for the state permit is $100.

Recreational fires smaller than 3 feet on each side do not require a permit from Routt County Environmental Health.

The second tier of the permit process is for property owners to go to their local fire district for a safety permit. While Environmental Health deals with smoke issues, the local fire departments deal with the possibility of the fire spreading. Fire department officials take into account wind and ground conditions when issuing permits.

Finally, after both agencies have approved permits, the property owner must call Routt County Dispatch at 970-879-1090 and provide a courtesy open burn notification. This is an important step, officials said, because many residents who see smoke will call 911 without realizing the open burn is a normal part of the agricultural process.

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