Before there is a recommendation of a fire ban, the following criteria are considered:
• A calculation of fuel moisture below and above 8,000 feet
• The three-day energy release component (ERC)
• The live fuel moisture content in sagebrush and conifer trees
• The extent to which actual fires are impacting available firefighting resources
• Whether the area is receiving a higher than normal occurrence of human-caused fires
• A prediction that adverse fire weather will continue
• The Palmer Drought Index, produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, indicates severe and extreme drought conditions.
Steamboat Springs Despite six grass and brush fires in March and four in the past week alone, Routt County Emergency Management Director Bob Struble told the county commissioners Monday that conditions here are not yet close to meeting the criteria for a fire ban.
Gusting winds here last week caused several fires being used by farmers and ranchers to clear out their irrigation ditches to get away from them, primarily in areas south of U.S. Highway 40. A fire near Toponas on Saturday got out of control and burned more than 100 acres, including land controlled by the Bureau of Land Management, Struble said. In addition to high winds, air conditions were dry. The relative humidity in the area of the Toponas fire was measured at 9 percent, Struble said.
However, he said conditions described in a list of seven scientific criteria used in Routt, Moffat, Rio Blanco and Grand counties to determine if a partial or full fire ban are needed have not been met. Three of the criteria must be met for partial fire restrictions and four must be met for full restrictions to be put in place, Struble said.
“We’re not even close to meeting three of the seven, and to go to full restrictions we’d have to meet four. Yeah, it was a busy week last week, but we’ve got plenty of resources. Unfortunately, we’re burning (ditches) with high winds and that’s not a good thing.”
Ultimately, it is the Routt County Board of County Commissioners that has the responsibility to impose fire restrictions on private and state-owned lands in the county, Struble said.
Commissioner Doug Monger, a rancher who burns his irrigation ditches to rid them of weeds, said it’s important for ag operators to make good decisions about deciding when to proceed with controlled burns.
“There are a lot of good ways to burn. First thing in the morning is best. If you go ahead after lunch, you’re just begging for problems,” Monger said.
Sheriff Garrett Wiggins agreed.
“People just need to use good common sense,” he said.
Monger said he approves of the system of criteria used by fire and emergency officials in Northwest Colorado before imposing fire restrictions.
“I believe the criteria takes out the subjectivity,” Monger said. “We have experts taking measurements and making a recommendation to the commissioners.”
Should Routt County find it necessary to issue a fire ban later this season, it would first go to partial restrictions, which permit camp fires in fire rings at campgrounds and charcoal fires within enclosed grills, for example, before imposing a full ban.
Neighboring Eagle County is among several Colorado counties that have issued some form of a ban. The U.S. Forest Service temporarily has suspended all prescribed burns, which are being used to reduce fuels created by beetle-killed trees. And Gov. John Hickenlooper has enacted a temporary ban on prescribed burns on state-managed lands.
Struble said regional fire and emergency officials try to consult and coordinate fire bans before imposing them so that they aren’t confusing for residents of the region. Emergency and fire officials will meet in Craig on Friday, he said. County emergency officials also consult with administrators of public lands through the Northwest Colorado Fire Management Unit, composed of regional officials with the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com