Firefighters work a wildfire Wednesday along Routt County Road 16 in South Routt County. Embers from a slash pile started the fire.

Courtesy photo

Firefighters work a wildfire Wednesday along Routt County Road 16 in South Routt County. Embers from a slash pile started the fire.

Low fire danger in Northwest Colorado region ahead of holiday weekend

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Twitter handles for Routt County emergency management agencies and officials

@Nrfpdchief — North Routt Fire Protection District

@RouttCountyOEM and @RouttOEM — Routt County Emergency Management

@Oakcreekfire — Oak Creek Fire Protection District

@Westrouttchief — West Routt Fire Protection District Chief Bryan Rickman

@WigginsGarrett — Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins

@MBRNFsTBNG — Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests and Thunder Basin National Grassland

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— What a difference a year makes when it comes to wildfire conditions in Northwest Colorado.

Heading into Memorial Day weekend, there are no fire restriction in place in the region, meaning ranchers can continue agricultural burns and campers can enjoy campfires.

“We’re in a lot better shape than we were last year,” Routt County Emergency Management Director Bob Struble said Friday.

Last year’s dry conditions led to an onslaught of agricultural burns that got out of control. This led to Stage 1 fire restrictions going into effect April 18. Routt County imposed Stage 2 restrictions June 26, which essentially banned any open flames, including recreational campfires. The wildfire risk was so high that Sheriff Garrett Wiggins grounded the 32nd annual Hot Air Balloon Rodeo on July 7 and 8 because the balloons use open flames. July 4 fireworks were also canceled.

Currently, the fire danger is rated as low in the region, which means the potential for a large wildfire is minimal.

People still should exercise caution. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the western half of Routt County still is suffering from severe drought conditions while the rest of the county has moderate drought conditions. Drought conditions are expected to persist.

On Wednesday Oak Creek and Yampa Fire Protection District firefighters responded to a wildfire on Routt County Road 16. The previous day, slash piles had been burned, and when winds picked up Wednesday, an ember set grass on fire. Much of the surrounding vegetation was green but still was prone to fire.

“It’s deceiving,” Struble said.

Fire officials warn that lighter vegetation can dry out quickly and dead vegetation easily can catch fire.

“While our area has received rain and green-up is underway in fine vegetation, the larger fuels and trees still suffer from the effects of drought and are ready to burn,” Northwest Colorado Fire Management Officer Colt Mortenson said in a news release. “We’ve responded to a number of small and single-tree fires from lightning associated with thunderstorms.”

As the summer tourism season kicks off this weekend, fire officials have the following tips:

  • Be aware of expected weather conditions
  • Know whether fire restrictions are in effect
  • Clear campfire area of brush and grass well beyond campfire
  • Make campfire soup before leaving your campsite: drown campfire with water, cover and stir in dirt until coals are cool to the touch
  • Extinguish smoking materials properly: hold matches until they are cold
  • Park out of tall grass because hot catalytic converters can ignite fires
  • Use approved spark arresters on internal combustion powered equipment
  • Fireworks are illegal on public land
  • Weakened or dead trees can fall without warning, so assess your camp area upon arrival

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

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