Storm clouds roll over a fence line near Steamboat Springs on Wednesday. With the unusually dry weather and busy wildfire season, fire officials have recommended fire restrictions to be put in place for Routt County. Along with the rain Wednesday night, the National Weather Service is forecasting a chance of rain or snow until Sunday.

Photo by John F. Russell

Storm clouds roll over a fence line near Steamboat Springs on Wednesday. With the unusually dry weather and busy wildfire season, fire officials have recommended fire restrictions to be put in place for Routt County. Along with the rain Wednesday night, the National Weather Service is forecasting a chance of rain or snow until Sunday.

Routt County officials recommend fire restrictions

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■ Routt County Office of Emergency Management

■ Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue

■ West Routt Fire Protection District

■ Oak Creek Fire Department

■ Yampa Fire Protection District

— In the midst of an unusually early and busy wildfire season, local fire officials have recommended fire restrictions be put in place for Routt County.

The Routt County Board of Commissioners will vote on the proposed fire restrictions at 3 p.m. Tuesday. Until then, fire officials are asking for the public’s voluntary cooperation.

“We’re asking the agriculture community to recognize the fire danger and voluntarily stop all burning effective immediately,” Routt County Emergency Management Director Bob Struble said Wednesday.

If approved by commissioners, agricultural burns would not be allowed in unincorporated areas of Routt County. Struble said it would be the earliest restrictions have been enacted since at least 1980, when he started his career in public safety.

“It’s probably time,” Commissioner Doug Monger said Wednesday. “We’ve already seen tons of fires.”

The restrictions also would prohibit “building, maintaining, attending or using any fire to burn trash, debris, fence rows or vegetation, any campfire, warming fire, charcoal grill, except in designated campgrounds, picnic areas or developed recreational sites.”

The restrictions at this point would not apply to U.S. Forest Service land.

The proposed restrictions were announced the day after another wildfire started when an agricultural burn got out of control. The Middle Creek fire along Routt County Road 31 burned an estimated 300 to 400 acres of vegetation and was mostly out Wednesday afternoon. A single brush truck with firefighters was monitoring the area.

Tuesday’s wildfire was the largest of at least 11 wildfires since March 15 that were caused by agricultural burns that got out of control.

“That kind of pushed us a little bit to sit down this morning and have a talk,” Struble said.

Fire management officers have been managing the conditions in recent weeks, but criteria for restrictions were not met. The factors take into account variables such as how dry fuels are and what firefighting resources are available.

Several of those factors now have been met or are close to being met.

“We’re starting to put a lot of pressure on our local fire departments,” Struble said. “It was my hope that people would be cautious. That didn’t happen, and we’ve had a lot of fires we probably shouldn’t have had.”

To some relief, the National Weather Service in Grand Junction is forecasting a chance of rain or snow for the area every day through Sunday. Struble said he is hopeful the area will see moisture, but it quickly could dry up again and warrant fire restrictions.

“At this point, we’re headed in that direction,” Struble said.

Restrictions would remain in effect until officials determine that conditions have changed sufficiently to reduce the risk of human-caused wildfires.

“If we start getting moisture, we may take the fire ban off,” Monger said.

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