The Middle Creek Fire burns into the night April 10. The fire, which started as a controlled agricultural burn, burned an estimated 225 acres of vegetation.

Oak Creek Fire Protection District/Courtesy

The Middle Creek Fire burns into the night April 10. The fire, which started as a controlled agricultural burn, burned an estimated 225 acres of vegetation.

Routt County commissioners approve fire restrictions

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— Officials hope fire restrictions that go into effect Wednesday will limit future wildfires, particularly the preventable ones seen recently in Routt County.

With above-average temperatures and below-average moisture expected to return to the Yampa Valley during the next six weeks, the Routt County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday voted unanimously in favor of fire restrictions.

Routt County Emergency Management Director Bob Struble told commissioners that of the 11 wildfires so far this spring, nine of them were human-caused. They were the result of agricultural burns that got out of control and turned into wildfires. The fires have cost the county upward of $30,000, Struble said, and happened despite warnings not to burn because of the conditions.

“We tried to put out a message for people to be cautious ... and obviously there were people not listening to what we had to say,” Struble said.

The restrictions apply to all state lands within the county as well as unincorporated areas of Routt County, which are where the wildfires this spring have occurred.

Those living within the municipal boundaries of Hayden, Oak Creek and Steamboat Springs are not under restrictions.

Restrictions have not been imposed by federal agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service.

Under the restrictions, agricultural burns are banned as well as campfires, unless they are at designated campgrounds or recreational sites. Recreational fires at homes in the restricted area are not allowed, for instance.

Smoking is banned except within an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site, or while stopped in an area of at least three feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable material. There also are restrictions on operating chainsaws and welding.

The Routt County Sheriff’s Office has the authority to grant exemptions. Fire departments performing an official duty also are exempt from the restrictions.

Commissioner Doug Monger voted in favor of the restrictions despite being a rancher, who himself has agricultural burns he would like to conduct. He acknowledged that some people might be upset by the restrictions.

“There are some farmers and ranchers out there that have a lot of burning out there that they would like to get done,” Monger said.

He said that the restrictions could be lifted if conditions improve but that they are necessary despite the recent moisture.

“Even then, two days of wind and it will be gone back to just where it was at,” Monger said.

Struble said the county has received about $20,000 in bills so far related to wildfires, and he expects an additional $7,000 to $10,000 in bills.

State laws make fighting wildfires on private and state land within Routt County the responsibility of the sheriff. Rather than equip the Sheriff’s Office with firefighting resources, the county has chosen to reimburse local fire districts for fighting the fires.

Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said the county historically has not tried to recoup the wildfire costs from landowners. She said it would be difficult because agricultural burns are legal.

“It’s not the easiest thing to get money from ... especially in the instance of agricultural burns,” she said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

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